Concussions are out of sight, not out of mind

In 2009, then 15-year-old  Amanda Gilmore, now a sophomore secondary education major, suffered her first concussion. It was her first of four. Gilmore was small for her age, not that it slowed her down when she was bounding after a loose ball. Throwing herself to the floor she wrestled with the other girls, elbows flying and sneakers screeching on the cool gymnasium floor. Gilmore never saw the blow coming when another girl fell on top of her, causing her head to visibly bounce off the floor. For the next 10 seconds everything would turn soundlessly black.

Concussions are a hot topic in today’s news. Images of teeth-rattling helmet to helmet hits and stories of football players dying young pervade the media today.

However, these brain injuries are not just afflicting football players. Biking, walking on treacherous ice and even
pee-wee soccer, or tumbles down stairs; concussions are being recognized in greater numbers of people during their
everyday lives.

 

What is a
concussion?

“Head injuries, concussion, if you watch the old movies, The Three Stooges, it’s almost like a funny thing,” said Dr. Vincent Serio, director of medical services at University Health and Recreation. “It’s much more of a serious problem than that.”

A common misconception is that when someone gets a concussion that person blacks out. This is not always true. While someone may lose consciousness upon sustaining a concussion it is just as likely that he or she will not.

“They may have amnesia, or a loss of memory, confusion, disorientation, headaches, seizures… but all of them are transient. They’re usually completely reversible and will go away,” Serio said.

Head injuries are always something to worry about. While people don’t need to go to the doctor for every little bump, anytime there is a blow to the head with significant force that individual should see a doctor in order to be safe, Serio explained.

“If you have any loss of consciousness you should go. If you have any loss of memory you should go. If you have any symptoms that don’t go away within 30 minutes you should go,” Serio said. “So headache, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, dizziness—any symptom that persists after even the most minor head injury should prompt a medical evaluation.”

 

The future of concussions:

The emergence of new evidence that proves concussions could have long lasting effects has given parents pause when considering whether they want their children to be involved in sports. For Marc Paul, head athletic trainer at Boise State, this is a worry that he deals with every day at work, and that hits closer to home.

When Paul’s own son was in eighth grade he received two concussions playing football.

“The dad in me would love to see him play,” Paul said. “The bonding, the things you get in the locker room, you know? After practice and before, the road trips; you’ll never find that anywhere else and there’s a huge benefit to it. I’m just sad to see he’ll never have that.”

Paul left the decision up to his son and his son has chosen not to play football again. “The athletic trainer side of me, and a little bit of the dad, is relieved because I’ve seen the long term effects of concussion. In a kid, in a developing brain and all that: it can have pretty severe consequences,” Paul said.

The biggest danger is not what we know about concussions, but what we are just now learning. What was once conjecture is now gathering more evidence all the time., ideas like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This is the condition found in the brains of deceased football players Junior Seau and Cookie Gilchrist, diagnosed posthumously.

CTE is believed to be caused by repeated concussions. It can cause severe depression, dementia, erratic behavior and difficultly with balance. Research is just now beginning to delve into CTE, but it has proven difficult.

While we can biopsy, x-ray, touch, examine and generally poke and prod most areas of our bodies to see what is happening, things are not so simple when dealing with the brain.

“The brain is different,” Serio said. “It’s enclosed in bone, in the skull. You can’t just open up somebody’s skull and take a sample.”

Concussions were once thought to be a benign brain injury Serio explained. For years this was accepted because the damage from a concussion cannot be seen on any brain scans.

With no way to harvest samples from living patients and scans that do not show the problem, the progress being made in research is slow.

“There’s probably levels of detection that we haven’t discovered yet,” Serio said. “What are these levels? That would be the million dollar question.”

Gilmore still loves to play basketball. However, her concussions have left  her with frequent migraines and other lingering symptoms. She’s taken a step back, albeit a small one. She now coaches girls’ basketball at a local junior high. Even in the short years since her high school campaign she’s noticed some big changes.

“When I got my concussion it was ‘sit out for two days and rub some dirt on it so you can get back to the game’,” Gilmore said. “Now before I could coach I had to take a class on concussions…It changed which is a definite good thing.”

Tips and Myths

A concussion is bleeding or a bruise on the brain: 

False

By definition, a concussion leaves no visible physical mark or damage on the brain. If bleeding occurred it is no longer considered a concussion—it’s a higher level of brain trauma, explained Serio.

The bottom line:  If you can see it on a CT scan or MRI, it’s not a concussion.

 

You should never let someone with a concussion sleep: 

Partially true

Sleep itself is not dangerous for someone with a concussion. The danger is that while sleeping, warning signs of a serious problem, such as slurring or disorientation, are likely to be missed.

The bottom line: Wake someone who has had a concussion once every 2 hours for the first 24 hours. If he or she is responding normally it’s safe to return to sleep.

 

When you have a concussion you can’t do your homework: 

False.

It is true that the prescribed method of treatment is “brain rest”. However doing so is not dangerous, but is likely to aggravate the symptoms, such as headaches.

“Hey you’re college students,” Serio said. “You can’t avoid college. But anything extra—no.”

The bottom line: If you get a concussion you’ll probably want to keep up on your homework and cut out “The Walking Dead” instead.

When in doubt would you head to the doctor after head trauma?

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About the author  ⁄ Emily Pehrson

Emily Pehrson

Emily Pehrson is working as the managing editor for The Arbiter. She is junior at Boise State with a double major in English and Communication. When not working or in class, Pehrson can be found watching sports with her brother via Skype. She recently became a very proud first-time aunt and adores showering the baby girl with gifts while insisting that dinosaurs are gender neutral. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyPehrson