Keep a Cool Head About Concussions This Summer

Summer is in full swing and so are the abundance of summer activities in our area. Getting outside and being active is a great way to stay healthy while having fun with friends and family. We want everyone to enjoy all of the activities we have access to as Central Oregonians, but it is vitally important to remember that injuries and falls are common and can often lead to concussions – a potentially serious condition. Concussions from a fall can occur in nearly every outdoor activity, from trail running to playground accidents. We caught up with local expert, Viviane Ugalde, MD, at The Center Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care and Medical Director of Concussion Management for The Center Foundation, to get the facts and a heads up on what to do after sustaining a head injury.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. They may also occur when a hit to the body causes the head and brain to move back and forth rapidly. A concussion is a serious condition that requires specialized medical expertise.

What are the symptoms?

After a head injury, a person with a concussion may not be able to recall events around the injury time, may appear dazed or stunned, may be confused, move clumsily, speak slowly, or have other behavioral changes. Other concussion symptoms can include headache, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, dizziness, confusion, and changes in attention, concentration, and/or memory.

But I never lost consciousness!

The majority of concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness. Concussions are most often associated with a period of altered consciousness; the individual may appear to be confused, “out of it,” unable to answer simple questions, or unable to remember the incident.

What do I do if I suspect I have a concussion?

It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your head. If you have suffered a concussion and return to your sport of choice without being evaluated by a medical professional, you increase your risk for more complications. Do not try to judge the seriousness of your head injury yourself – seek medical attention from a health care professional experienced in concussion management as soon as you can. Make an appointment with your primary care provider or visit NOWcare for same-day appointments. Be sure to keep a close eye on the individual for the first 24-48 hours and watch for any changes.

If any of the following symptoms are present, go to the emergency room or call 911:

  • Lost consciousness
  • Convulsions or seizures (arms and legs jerk uncontrollably)
  • Severe confusion; cannot recognize familiar people or places
  • Repeated vomiting
  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
  • Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination

How will my doctor evaluate my head injury?

Your medical provider will assess things like your cognitive function, balance, vision, neck pain/injuries, and any potential need for referrals for speech therapy, physical therapy, or neuropsychology. Your doctor may also do a scan of your brain, such as a CT scan or other tests.

What will recovery be like?

Every person and every brain injury is different. Most people will recover quickly and fully within a few weeks, but for some, symptoms can last months or longer. Making short term changes to your daily activities can help get you back to a regular routine more quickly. Rest is extremely important to allow the brain to recover. As you start to feel better, introducing light activity can be a great way to help the brain heal. It is important to avoid any activity that puts you at risk for another injury to the head. Electronics and “screen time” should be avoided for the initial recovery period. Your medical provider can create a custom plan to ensure the quickest recovery possible. Be sure to contact your doctor right away if any symptoms concern you or are getting worse.

How can I reduce my risk of concussion?

The goal is for every Central Oregonian to enjoy the outdoors and be active while staying safe. Be sure to use approved and properly fitted safety equipment for your sport of choice, and make sure it is in good condition. While there is no concussion-proof helmet, they do protect the skull and absorb impact. Make sure your helmet fits properly and is worn consistently. Additionally, always wear a seat belt, or use age-appropriate car seats, to reduce the risk of head injury in case of motor vehicle accidents.

For more information on concussions, visit our Concussion Center.