A Bump on the Head or a Concussion? How to Tell the Difference.

By Nuvance Health Neurologists  |  7/29/2020

Learn how to spot the signs of a concussion and what to do if you think you may have one

Summary:

  • Falls and bumps to the head that occur during exercise or while working around the home can lead to concussions in adults.
  • If you think you may have a concussion (even a mild one), you should see a primary care clinician or visit an urgent care as soon as possible.
  • Concussion symptoms such as loss of consciousness, seizures, mood changes, severe/worsening headache, prolonged vomiting, and more could be a sign of a serious problem and require emergency care.
  • Nuvance Health has implemented safety protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, so there’s no reason to skip or delay concussion care due to COVID-19 concerns.

There’s been an uptick in do-it-yourself home improvement projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with warmer weather and communities reopening after the initial COVID-19 surge, you may be looking forward to tackling exterior home improvement projects or resuming your outdoor exercise routine.

Although these activities are a normal and necessary part of adult life, falls or bumps on the head sustained while working around the home or exercising are common causes of concussions. Here’s what you need to know about concussions, including what they are, how to spot the signs, and when to seek medical care.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when the brain gets bounced around or twisted inside the skull. Concussions are typically caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to move quickly back and forth.

What are the signs of a concussion?

Adults who have experienced a concussion may seem dazed, feel sluggish, forget where they are or what they are doing, appear clumsy or unbalanced in their movements, or respond to questions slowly. One might also experience a headache, nausea, vomiting, changes to vision, balance problems, difficulty concentrating, or sensitivity to light or noise.

If you think you may have a concussion, you should be evaluated as soon as possible by a clinician who has experience treating concussions.

Although concussion symptoms often show up right away, some concussion symptoms may not appear for hours or days after the injury occurred. You should monitor your condition and alert your healthcare clinician about any new or changing symptoms.

What concussion symptoms require emergency care?

Some concussion symptoms could indicate a serious problem. You should go to the emergency department or dial 911 if you sustained a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body and experience “red-flag” symptoms, including:

  • One pupil is larger than the other
  • Drowsiness or an inability to wake up
  • Headache that gets worse, is severe, or does not go away
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or prolonged nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Unusual behavior or mood/personality changes, such as confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Loss of consciousness — even briefly

Where should I go for concussion care?

For emergency symptoms outlined above, you should dial 911 or visit the emergency department. For less-severe symptoms, you should see a primary care or urgent care clinician as soon as possible.

Nuvance Health emergency departments are staffed by clinicians who are equipped to provide emergency concussion care, such as neurologists. Nuvance Health patients throughout Connecticut and New York can also visit their primary care clinician, and patients in New York can also visit one of our urgent care centers.

If you need concussion care, skipping or delaying an in-person evaluation due to COVID-19 concerns could be dangerous. Across all facilities, Nuvance Health has implemented safety protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. For more information, visit nuvancehealth.org/safecare

If symptoms are mild, your primary care clinician may be able to diagnose a concussion via telemedicine. You should contact your healthcare clinician to find out if telemedicine is an option, or if an in-person visit is required. To learn more about Nuvance Health Virtual Visits, please go to nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits

How is a concussion diagnosed?

Your healthcare clinician will ask about your concussion symptoms, how the injury occurred, and whether you have had any concussions in the past. They will also conduct a complete neurological exam.

Imaging tests — such as a CT or MRI — are not usually necessary to diagnose a concussion. Your healthcare clinician will only order these tests if they feel that further investigation is needed.

After an initial evaluation, you may be referred to a neurologist for follow up care. Nuvance Health neurologists are experienced in treating concussions and can recommend an appropriate treatment plan for you.

How is a concussion treated?

Rest is a crucial component of concussion recovery. Physical activity — as well as activities that require thinking/remembering might be limited. Additional treatments will be tailored to your specific needs and may include medication, physical therapy, adjustments to work routines, or neuropsychiatric care.

When can I resume normal activities after a concussion?

Your healthcare clinician will provide more information about when you can safely return to exercise, work, and other routine activities. These recommendations are based on several factors, including your overall health, concussion history, the severity of the injury, and the rate of recovery.

Recovery may be slower in adults over the age of 40, so it’s important to remember to take it easy and let your healthcare clinician know if your symptoms worsen or do not improve over time.

The bottom line:

If you think you may have a concussion, it’s important to see a primary care, neurologist, or urgent care clinician as soon as possible. If you experience “red-flag” concussion symptoms, visit the emergency department or dial 911 immediately. Nuvance Health has implemented safety protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, so there’s no reason to skip or delay concussion care due to COVID-19 concerns.

To learn more about neurology at Nuvance Health, visit our websites:

Connecticut Neurology

New York Neurology