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How to Treat a Concussion

When a blow to the head shakes the brain within the space between the brain and the skull, the resulting shaking is known as concussion.[1] A concussion is the most common type of head injury. A concussion can result from a car crash, a sports injury, a fall, or a violent shake to the head or upper body.[2] While most concussions are a temporary disturbance that don't leave lasting damage, it can lead to associated serious problems if not treated promptly and effectively.[3]

Part One of Three:
Determining If a Person Has a Concussion

  1. 1
    Assess the victim. Examine the wound and look carefully at the victim. Check to see if the victim has a bleeding head wound. Concussions might not bleed on the surface, but under the scalp, creating a "goose egg" or a hematoma (a large bruise).[4]
    • Visible external injuries are not always a good way to tell if someone has a concussion since some very minor scalp wounds bleed profusely, while some less visible impact injuries can cause major brain impairment.
    • Physical symptoms to look for include signs of basilar skull fracture, Battle’s sign (a swollen bruised area that appears several days after a skull fracture because blood has leaked into the area behind the ear), raccoon eyes, and rhinorrhea (leakage of cerebrospinal fluid).[5][6]
  2. 2
    Check for physical symptoms. Mild and severe concussions can result in many physical symptoms. Look for any of the following symptoms:
    • Loss of consciousness.
    • Severe headache.
    • Light sensitivity.
    • Double or blurred vision.
    • Seeing "stars", spots or other visual anomalies.
    • Loss of coordination and balance.
    • Vertigo.
    • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in legs and arms.
    • Nausea and vomiting.[7]
    • Amnesia.
    • Obvious confusion.
  3. 3
    Check for cognitive symptoms. Since a concussion is an ailment of the brain, concussions often disrupt brain function. These disruptions include:
    • Unusual irritability or excitability.
    • Disinterest or difficulties with concentration, logic, and memory.
    • Mood swings or outbursts of inappropriate emotions and tearfulness.
    • Drowsiness or lethargy.
  4. 4
    Assess consciousness. When checking for a concussion, it is important to know whether or not the victim is conscious and know his or her level of cognitive function. To check the consciousness of the victim, try the AVPU code:[8]
    • A - Is the victim alert? - Does the victim watch you with their eyes? Does he answer your questions? Does he respond to normal environmental stimuli?
    • V - Does the victim respond to voice? - Does the victim respond when spoken to, even if the response is small and not completely alert? Does he need to be yelled at to respond? A victim can respond to verbal commands and not be alert. A response of "Huh?" when you speak to them means they are verbally responsive, yet not alert.
    • P - Does the victim respond to pain or touch? - Pinch skin to see if there is movement or if the victim opens his eyes. Another technique is to pinch or poke the nail bed. Be careful when doing this; you do not want to cause unnecessary harm to the victim. You are simply trying to get a physical response from him.[9]
    • U - Is the victim unresponsive to anything attempted?
  5. 5
    Watch the victim afterwards. Most concussion symptoms appear within minutes of the injury. Others appear hours later. Some symptoms can change days later. Keep a watch on the victim and call a doctor if symptoms worsen or change.[10]

Part Two of Three:
Treating a Mild Concussion

  1. 1
    Apply ice. To reduce swelling with a minor injury, apply an ice pack to the affected area. Apply ice every two to four hours, for 20-30 minute increments.[11]
    • Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Wrap it in a cloth or plastic. If ice is not available, use a bag of frozen vegetables.
    • Do not apply pressure to any head trauma wound as this could push bone splinters into the brain.
  2. 2
    Take over the counter pain medicine. To treat head pain at home, take acetaminophen (Tylenol). Do not take ibuprofen or aspirin because that could make bruising or bleeding worse.[12]
  3. 3
    Keep focused. If the victim is conscious, ask questions continually. This serves two purposes: to assess the degree of the victim's impairment, and to keep the victim awake. Continuing to ask questions can alert you to changes in the victim's cognitive state if the victim fails to answer a question they could answer before. If the cognitive state changes and worsens, seek medical attention. Good questions include:
    • What is today's date?
    • Where are you?
    • What happened to you?
    • What is your name?
    • Are you feeling alright?
    • Can you repeat the following words after me...?
  4. 4
    Stay with the victim. For the first twenty-four hours, stay with the victim. Do not leave them alone. Monitor their physical and cognitive function for any changes. If the victim wishes to sleep, wake the victim every quarter hour for the first 2 hours, then every half hour for the following 2 hours, then hourly.[13]
    • Every time you wake them, do the AVPU consciousness test as outlined above. You want to continuously monitor their cognitive and physical state in case symptoms appear later or worsen.
    • If the victim does not respond to being woken up, treat as an unconscious patient.
  5. 5
    Avoid strenuous activity. For days after your concussion, avoid sports and strenuous activity. During this time, avoid stressful situations. Your brain needs to rest and heal.[14] Before taking part in sports, you may want to contact your doctor.
    • Returning to activity too early predisposes you to increased risk for a repeat concussion and long term problems of dementia.
  6. 6
    Don't drive. Do not operate a vehicle or ride a bicycle until you feel fully healed. Get someone to drive you to and from the doctor's office or hospital.
  7. 7
    Rest. Do not read, watch TV, text, listen to music, play video games, or perform any other mental task. You should rest both physically and mentally.[15]
  8. 8
    Eat brain-healthy foods. Food can positively and negatively affect the healing of your brain. Avoid alcohol after a concussion. Also avoid fried foods, sugars, caffeine, artificial colors and flavors. Instead, eat the following foods:
    • Avocados.
    • Blueberries.
    • Coconut oil.
    • Nuts and seeds.
    • Salmon.
    • Butter, cheese, and eggs.
    • Honey.
    • Any of your favorite fruits and vegetables.[16]

Part Three of Three:
Treating a Severe Concussion

  1. 1
    Contact a doctor. Any suspected head injury or concussion needs to be evaluated by a medical professional. What may seem like a minor head injury could be a fatal one. If the patient is experiencing some minor symptoms but does't seem to be in a great deal of danger, drive them to the nearest doctor's office.
    • If the patient is unconscious or if you are unsure the extent of the damage, call an ambulance. Driving a head trauma patient requires moving them, which should never be done until the head is stabilized. Moving a head trauma patient could lead to death.
  2. 2
    Go to the hospital. If the patient is having severe signs of a concussion after experiencing a blow the head, go the the ER immediately. They will do a CT scan and assess the brain for contusions and swelling. If the victim shows any of these symptoms, take them immediately to the ER:
    • Loss of consciousness, even if briefly.
    • Periods of amnesia.
    • Feeling dazed or confused.
    • Severe headache.
    • Repeated vomiting.
    • Seizure.[17]
  3. 3
    Stay still and avoid movement. If you think a neck or spine injury may accompany the concussion, avoid moving the victim while waiting on the paramedics. Moving the person may cause further injury.
    • If you must move the person, do so very carefully. Make sure to move the head and the back as little as possible.[18]
  4. 4
    Follow up. If your symptoms do not improve within 7-10 days, contact your physician. If at any time your symptoms change or worsen, contact your physician.[19]
  5. 5
    Continue treatment. There is very little known about the effects of concussion on the brain and on cognitive function. However, some treatments prescribed by your doctor may improve lingering symptoms.
    • A doctor may perform any number of scans, including an MRI, CT, or EEG.[20] A doctor may also perform a neurological test that evaluates your vision, hearing, reflexes, and coordination. Another test they may perform is a cognitive test, which checks memory, concentration, and recall.[21]

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • After a concussion, will nausea and motion sickness subside and my taste buds return to normal?
    Answered by Chris M. Matsko, M.D.
    • Yes, your senses should return to normal.
    Thanks! 17 9
  • Should I contact a doctor if someone has a concussion and is shaking?
    Answered by Chris M. Matsko, M.D.
    • Yes, if you are having seizures due to a concussion you should go the ER immediately to get a CT scan and be evaluated by a doctor.
    Thanks! 11 12
  • Should I see a doctor if I am still dizzy 72 hours after a head injury?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Yes, you should see a doctor to figure out if you have a concussion, and what the cause of the dizziness is.
    Thanks! 14 4
  • Are concussions dangerous?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Yes, they can be very dangerous depending on the severity of the concussion. Internal bleeding and brain swelling can occur after a concussion and could cause serious injury or even death if not properly diagnosed by a medical professional.
    Thanks! 21 10
  • Are there tests to learn whether or not I still have a concussion?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Yes, you should go to your doctor, as they can provide sound medical advice and test to see if you still have a concussion.
    Thanks! 9 3
  • Is it safe to go swimming after a concussion?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • No. You should wait a little while and ask your doctor to see what stage you are at for healing.
    Thanks! 9 5
  • If my son has a severe concussion, how long should I wait before allowing him to play video games and sports again?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Gradually introduce brain stimulation, stopping activities when symptoms return. It can take a long time for the brain to heal, especially with a severe concussion. Just for a regular concussion, you can be on house arrest for five days, minimum. Overall, he should get a lot of rest for at least the next week or so. Ask your doctor for specifics regarding your child, the doctor will know more than anyone else, as they should be the one diagnosing and treating it.
    Thanks! 14 10
  • Five days ago I fell and hit my head which resulted in major pain. Each day it gets a little better, but I still feel dizzy and nauseated at times. Can I take Zannix (for tremors) and Moduret safely?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • A call to your doctor is in order to find out how severe your concussion is and if taking your medication is safe or not.
    Thanks! 7 4
  • Does a concussion affect appetite?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Yes, you may lose your appetite due to severe nausea. I found it important to do protein shakes to supplement my diet. You should also nourish your brain with anti-inflammatories like vitamin C, flax oil, fish oil and curcumin.
    Thanks! 6 4
  • Should opioids be used for treating the pain associated with concussions?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Opioids should not be used to treat headaches or pain after a concussion, as they are strong sedatives normally reserved for severe muscular pain. Over the counter pain relievers should be utilized for any pain after a concussion, and seek counsel with a medical professional if the pain is severe.
    Thanks! 8 10
Show more answers
  • I hit my head hard and now I am crying for no reason. Is this a symptom of a concussion?
  • Are there ever any prescription meds used to treat a concussion? Or only tylenol?
  • What if a massive block of wood fell on your head really hard? And it really hurts?
  • Wat are the signs of bleeding and swelling of the brain?
  • What should I do if I have a concussion?
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  • Return to play should not be on the same day of the concussion. The athlete should not return to play until asymptomatic and off medication. A more conservative approach should be taken with children and adolescents.
    0 Helpful?  0
  • Prevention includes the use of helmets for sports such as football, rugby, baseball, ice hockey, alpine skiing, and snowboarding.
    0 Helpful?  0

Expert Review By:

Family Medicine Physician

This version of How to Treat a Concussion was reviewed by Chris M. Matsko, M.D. on September 15, 2017.

531 votes - 90%
Co-authors: 75
Views: 945,222
Categories: Concussion

Reader Success Stories

  • SM

    Sarah Mefford

    Apr 26, 2017

    "My oldest daughter is suffering tremendously right at this moment from great pain and discomfort from what her school sports trainer is calling a mild concussion. Thanks to this info, I know I need to get her to the doctor very quickly. "..." more
    Rated this article:
  • WB

    William Berhanu

    Jun 14, 2017

    "It helped me understand that there are some different ways you can treat concussions. Now I know I have concussion (don't worry I checked up at the doctor and got some pills to treat my concussion."..." more
  • TS

    Tim Smithsonian

    Jun 22, 2016

    "It helped just to learn a little bit of information about a possible concussion and things to look for."
  • CH

    Cade Hendrickson

    Feb 21, 2017

    "I am so glad I used this, it helped me. It's a life saver. Thank you."
  • KM

    Kat Maver

    Aug 27, 2016

    "Detailed information on symptoms and when to go to the hospital."
  • JD

    J. D.

    Sep 14, 2016

    "This will help me with what not to do and what to do. Thanks."
  • JB

    Jarvis Burres

    Dec 10, 2016

    "Great overview, each case has its own symptoms."
  • A


    Jun 10, 2017

    "Tips, all of them. I did have to read, though."
  • A


    Nov 30, 2016

    "I don't have a concussion anymore, thanks."
  • KO

    Kevin Oakley

    Apr 22, 2017

    "I learned to check for a concussion. "
    Rated this article:
  • ES

    Ed Shaman

    Sep 4, 2016

    "Very informative. Thank you."
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