Is it a concussion? Know the signs.

March 15, 2021 Swedish Neuroscience Team

Key takeaways:

  • Nearly 75% of all traumatic brain injuries are concussions. 
  • Recognizing the signs of a concussion can help you know when (and why) to seek medical help.
  • A concussion can have long-term effects like mood swings, changes in behavior even a year after the injury.
  • When left untreated, concussions can lead to serious conditions like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) -  a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries.


It’s a heart-stopping moment just about all parents know: Your child falls and hits their head. Maybe it’s just a minor tumble on the soccer field and they pick themselves up quickly and return to play. Or, maybe they’re down and, for a few gut-wrenching minutes, you’re worried they need medical care. Concussions happen to adults, too: During friendly games of pick-up basketball; a spill down the stairs or even in a car wreck.

No matter the circumstances or the place – at home, in the backyard, at the playground or on the field, you should always pay close attention to any time there’s an impact to the head. That’s because a concussion can cause short- and long-term damage to the brain, including an increased risk of epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain disorders..

It’s a scary thought, but fortunately, knowing the signs of a concussion and where to go for treatment can help you feel calm and in control. This March, honor Brain Injury Awareness Month and get informed on the signs and treatment of a concussion.

Signs of a concussion

A concussion is a mild brain injury caused by a direct hit to the head. It results in an immediate change in mental status, like confusion, irritation or even loss of consciousness.

Symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Amnesia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Sadness

It’s important to note that signs of a concussion aren’t always clear and can develop over time. For example, some individuals have dizziness right away but can shake it off and go about their day. Then, a few days later, confusion, irritability and difficulty concentrating may appear. These differences are just another reason you should seek immediate medical care after a hit to the head.

Long term effects of a concussion

Concussions can also have long-term effects, even seemingly mild ones, ranging from:

  • Sustained mental or emotional changes (mood swings, constant shifts in behavior)
  • Trouble concentrating at work, school or even while doing minor tasks at home
  • Depression or anxiety that didn’t exist before

It’s also worth noting that the long-term effects of multiple concussions can be particularly severe, and can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This neurodegenerative brain disease has been associated with individuals (particularly football and soccer players) who have been exposed to repeated head trauma.  

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to monitor your child’s (or your own) concussion. And it starts with resting your brain.

Concussions and rest

It may seem like an odd concept – how can you rest an organ that seems to never stop? But, it’s important to rest the brain after a concussion to give it time to heal and recover from injury. If you suspect your child, yourself or another loved one have experienced a concussion, the first step is to contact a medical professional, but after that, you can rest your brain in these ways:

  • Get plenty of rest. Don’t rush back to daily activities such as school or work
  • Avoid activities that may result in a blow or jolt to the head
  • Avoid watching TV, playing video games and looking at your phone or computer

For a long time, you may have also heard that you shouldn’t let someone with a concussion sleep. That’s not the case anymore. Rest – including sleep – is often best for someone who just hit their head. However, if someone is exhibiting any serious or new changes to their health (like difficulty walking, talking or dilated pupils), you should talk to your doctor or seek emergency care immediately.

A doctor may also give you guidance on waking someone with a concussion every few hours to make sure they can still awaken easily.

Treating a concussion

A healthcare provider can order tests to determine if a concussion has happened. That may include imaging tests or a physical exam that checks reflexes.

Treatment for a concussion may also include:

  • Medication: Over-the-counter or prescription medication may be able to help relieve some symptoms (like headaches).
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT):  Therapy can be an effective tool to manage long-term effects of a concussion, like difficulty concentrating, mood swings, anxiety or depression.

Our Sports Concussion Clinic can help get to the bottom of what’s causing your child’s (or your own) symptoms – even if it’s not caused by an injury during sports. We’re here to share our in-depth knowledge and experience to help anyone affected by a concussion recover and return to play – whether it’s on a field or just in life.


Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.

Related resources

Concussions can have long-term effects on kids

How to manage a sports-related concussion

Why you should take concussions seriously

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

From deep brain stimulation to focused ultrasound to pediatric neurology, The Swedish Neuroscience Team is recognized as national experts to help people address a wide array of neurological conditions. Our goal is to provide useful and helpful advice and tips on non-surgical and surgical options to treat any disease of the mind.

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