Have you ever hit your head in a game or after a fall -- and felt anything like this afterward:
- Have trouble concentrating.
- Get distracted easily by noises and lights.
- Feel "zoned out."
- Have trouble focusing on your homework.
- Forget to do assignments.
- Forget stuff you learned recently, including things your parents asked you to do.
- Feeling really tired and sleepy
- Have trouble keeping your balance
Then guess what -- you may have had a concussion. And it's a big deal.
Don't panic. Your brain can recover, but you need to give it a break while it's healing. Here's how, and why.
Concussions Can Leave You with a "Slow Computer"
Your healthy brain works like the best computer you can buy, says David Coppel, PhD, a sports concussion expert at the University of Washington. But after a concussion, your brain acts more like the ancient computers your parents used in the 1990s. Game over.
To get back up to speed ASAP, your brain needs downtime. And you're probably not going to like what it involves.
"No video games, no texting, no using the computer, and no watching TV," says Tracey Covassin, PhD, an athletic trainer and concussion expert at Michigan State University. Even though games, texting, and watching TV seem simple, your brain has to work to keep track of what’s happening on the screen. That's why you need to take a break from them after a concussion.
For how long? About 7-10 days, in most cases. Of course, your doctor has the last word on exactly how much time you need.
See your doctor before you get back to your normal routine, even if you're feeling fine. And go straight to a doctor if your symptoms (such as headaches, confusion, memory problems, or vomiting) get worse.
Slow Down at School
You'll also need a break from tests and heavy-duty school work during that time. Here's how:
- Stay home. Miss a day or more of school until you feel well enough to return.
- Come in late for a while if you’re too tired in the morning, or go home early if your symptoms are getting worse in the afternoon.
- Leave class if you are feeling tired or exhausted
- Take extra time to turn in homework.
- Postpone tests until you feel better. This is especially important when a lot is riding on the test, like the SATs or the ACT.
- Find a quiet spot somewhere in the classroom where sights and sounds won’t interrupt you as much, like away from a window or noisy hallway.
- Make your case. A note from your doctor should help at school when you ask for special treatment. Your parents, coach, or your school’s athletic trainer can also help explain the situation.
Get Back to Normal
After your doctor gives you the OK to get back to normal life, take it easy. Don't go all out, all at once.
All those brain-challenging activities you skipped? Get back to them slowly -- for a few minutes at a time, Coppel suggests. And back off if you get a headache or feel badly. Build back up, bit by bit.
No More Concussions
You definitely don't want another concussion. Having more than one may mess with your memory or concentration, or lead to other long-term thinking problems.
So do this:
- Wear a helmet when you should. That means when you’re on your bike, scooter, 4-wheeler, horse, snowmobile, or skis. You also need a properly fitting helmet when you’re playing football, lacrosse, or other contact sports, and when you’re batting in baseball or softball.
- Follow the rules when you’re playing sports. No headbutting, for instance. These rules are in place to protect you, including your head.
- Wear a seatbelt in the car. Every time. And -- do we really need to say it -- never drink or use drugs when driving. Of course, that's not just about concussion risk. That's about staying alive, period.