Concussion Awareness and the Risk of Second Impact Syndrome

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries usually caused by a blow to the head. Concussions alter the way the brain functions. Because not all concussions result in a loss of consciousness, some people may not realize they are concussed.

Every year, an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur, and an average of 5 to 10% of all athletes will experience a concussion in any given sport season. Despite how common they are – particularly if you are involved in a contact sport – every concussion injures your brain to some extent and needs time to heal.

Signs and symptoms of concussions can vary in duration and severity. The most common symptoms of a concussion are headache, amnesia and confusion. One may experience immediate effects such as dizziness, ringing in the ears and nausea. Delayed in onset symptoms may be in the form of concentration or memory issues, irritability and sensitivity to light and sounds.

No athlete should return to play or vigorous activity while signs or symptoms continue. Athletes with a suspected concussion are advised to get medical evaluations before returning to play.

In order to test for concussion, doctors may perform neurological exams and/or imaging tests. You also may be required to stay in the hospital for observation.

Rest – both physical and mental – is the best way for the brain to recover from a concussion. For headaches, take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) over other pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin as these medications carry a higher risk of bleeding.

A potential complication of a concussion is second impact syndrome. Though rare, this dangerous condition can occur if someone experiences a second concussion before signs and symptoms of the first concussion have resolved. Second impact syndrome causes rapid brain swelling and bleeding that can result in permanent disability or death.

Second impact syndrome is a very rare diagnosis but it may be preventable by removing concussed athletes from practice or play until their signs or symptoms have ceased and a medical professional clears the athlete.

Reference: Mayo Clinic; “Concussion”; February 22, 2011;