Around 1 in 60 people who experience car accidents of any level of severity will develop concussion symptoms. Collisions, alongside falls and athletic injuries, are a major contributor to the incidence of this uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous condition. Nearly four million concussions are recorded yearly.
A concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury. It results from the sudden acceleration of the brain within the skull. While the most frequent cause of concussion involves a direct blow to the head, there is evidence that impact elsewhere in the body can also lead to concussion, such as receiving a hard blow to the chest, if it causes acceleration of the brain. This can occur with car accident injuries especially.
Symptoms usually occur within 24 hours, though for some people, it may take a few days up to a week. Around 80 percent of patients report that their symptoms have fully resolved within two weeks, while others report the recovery period lasting up to a month. A condition known as post-traumatic concussion syndrome causes headaches and other symptoms to last up to months after other symptoms have resolved. That is why it is important to get checked by a car accident doctor even if it feels like “just a headache.”
There are four types of symptoms that are related to concussions. Each group of symptoms can exacerbate the others, and symptoms may resolve at different points after the initial injury.
Physical Symptoms of Concussion
The physical symptoms of concussion may be the first that you may notice.
This symptom is often the first one most patients notice. These headaches may feel similar to migraine headaches. You may feel pain at the front of your head or in the temple, in addition to tenderness in the area where there was impact. Some patients may describe it as a throbbing or pounding kind of pain. As mentioned above, these headaches may resolve within weeks, but they may return from time to time for months after the injury first occurs.
Due to the way the brain is affected by concussion, many people report feeling a sense of dizziness, or vertigo, after they experience a concussion. Like headaches, this symptom can last longer than other symptoms, even after the rest of your symptoms have resolved. Researchers believe that the longevity of vertigo after a concussion may result from damage to the nervous system.
Ringing in Ears
Also known as tinnitus, this symptom also occurs as a result of damage to the nervous system. People who experience tinnitus due to concussion appear to experience it as louder and more painful than people who have tinnitus symptoms for other reasons.
Sleep After Concussion
Sleep is often a major area of concern for patients with concussions. Pain from the injury can make it difficult for you to fall asleep in the evening, or it may wake you throughout the night. Damage to the central nervous system can make it difficult for your body to receive or respond to the messages required for a good night of sleep.
Some people, on the other hand, experience the exact opposite. Rather than nighttime insomnia, these patients experience an intense increase in their daily daytime sleepiness. Some may have trouble staying awake for long periods of time or may end up sleeping for twice as long as they usually do. This symptom is known as hypersomnia and can be just as frustrating as its opposite.
Cognitive Symptoms After Concussion
Cognitive symptoms refer to those that affect your brain’s function to think or do other activities that help you with your day-to-day living.
Loss of Consciousness
After the incident that caused the concussion, such as during a car accident, many people report experiencing a temporary loss of consciousness. Some people describe it as sudden darkness, while others may describe something more as fading to black.
Amnesia (memory loss) is fairly common with concussions, while more mild concussions cause very brief amnesia, and more severe injuries can last longer bouts of amnesia, with longer periods of time lost. Usually, patients have difficulty remembering the moments before and after the injury occurred. Most patients can recover these memories eventually.
In the days following your injury, you may notice that you are having significantly more difficulty with focus or concentration than you are accustomed to. Even mild brain damage can cause temporary changes in your ability to attend to a task for a long period of time, although this will resolve alongside your other symptoms. Sleep issues related to concussions are also likely to exacerbate this issue.
Mood-Related Symptoms After Concussion
The traumatic experience from accidents also affect you mentally, with some even getting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after car accidents. These symptoms are caused as much by the pain and lack of sleep as they are by the damage sustained by your brain during a concussion. Limiting your stress during your recovery is important to ensure speedy healing, so self-care such as speaking with a therapist, participating in light physical activity, or journaling, can help you manage these symptoms.
Your heightened sense of anxiety after a concussion could be caused by a hyperactive autonomic nervous system responding to your injury. It should pass in time, but it could worsen or be worsened by certain symptoms, like insomnia or headaches.
Some people’s anxiety manifests as increased irritability. You may notice yourself being more easily annoyed or feeling bouts of anger. Note when this happens and why, and if possible, talk with a therapist.
Any traumatic brain injury has the potential for long-term effects, but concussions are most likely to cause such problems if this is not your first time at the rodeo, so to speak. With each concussion, your brain has more trouble repairing itself, and the damage you sustain lasts longer.
A serious and potentially fatal complication of concussions is called Second Impact Syndrome. It affects those who get a concussion while still experiencing the symptoms of another. This happens with people who are injured in sports or get into multiple car accidents. Second Impact Syndrome can also cause lifelong disability, including full-body paralysis.
While most concussions are minor and have few long-term side effects, they can be extremely dangerous. Because of this, it is imperative that you get any head injuries or concussion-related symptoms checked out immediately by a medical practitioner.