Despite what you may have seen on Monday Night Football, concussion recovery involves more than sitting on a bench and holding an ice pack on your head for a few minutes. A concussion is a serious injury, and failure to treat it correctly could result in permanent injury, including brain damage and even death. It's important to understand what a concussion is, what symptoms you can expect, and how to handle recovery.
A concussion is caused by a head impact which jars the brain. Basically, any time you get hit in the head, or hit something else with your head, you run the risk of shaking your brain around, which is never a good thing. Although you might lose consciousness, you can still suffer from a concussion while remaining conscious, so don't just assume that if you didn't black out you're alright.
Understand the symptoms of a concussion. Common symptoms include loss of consciousness, nausea, headache, confusion, drowsiness, memory loss, and seeing flashing lights. Similar to a Phish concert, but without the bean pies. If you have any of these symptoms, you may have a concussion. If you have any of these symptoms—repeated lapses in consciousness, persistent vomiting, seizures, problems walking, unequal pupil dilation, or trouble tracking an object with your eyes—you need immediate medical assistance. As in the emergency room.
Treating a Concussion. Treatment for a non-emergency concussion is fairly straightforward. For the first day or two you should have someone keep an eye on you. Although sleeping isn't recommended for the first few hours after a concussion, short naps are fine for the next day or so. Basically, you don't want to fall asleep and go into a coma. You will probably have a splitting headache, so taking Acetaminophen will be a good idea. Avoid other pain relievers, however, as they can cause complications. Eat sparingly (no double bacon cheeseburgers) and don't exert yourself.
Recovery and Prognosis. Recovery time varies, but generally ranges anywhere from several days to to several months, depending on the severity. Symptoms will fade over time, which is the best gauge of your recovery. You can expect to have headaches, irritability, memory problems and possibly some dizziness; like being drunk without the fun. It's a good idea to have someone around to check on you while you're recovering, because (again, like being drunk), the confusion and changes in mood can inhibit your decision-making ability. Above all, you want to avoid any situation where you could suffer an additional head injury. The most dangerous threat during your recovery is suffering a second concussion, which could produce brain swelling.
When to Call a Doctor. During recovery, if symptoms haven't abated in two weeks, or if they worsen, call a doctor. If you develop new symptoms, such as slurred speech, unusual behavior, vomiting, bleeding from the nose or ears or blurred vision, see a doctor. Bottom line: don't be a hero, see a doctor.