You're probably familiar with the typical symptoms of a concussion: confusion, dilated pupils, or dizziness are all signs of the traumatic brain injury, which generally occurs after a blow to the head. But concussion is actually a very complex condition, and there are many symptoms and signals that you may not have picked up on. From strange visual issues to odd memory problems, getting a concussive brain injury can have unexpected consequences. And just because you might not look like Kat Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You doesn't mean you don't need to get checked out.
There are a surprising amount of myths surrounding concussions that contribute to our misunderstanding of them. Someone on the receiving end of a concussion may not lose consciousness, nor do you necessarily have to experience a blow to the head to get one; whiplash or being shaken may lead to concussion, according to the Mayo Clinic, even if the head doesn't experience direct force. And you don't actually need to be kept awake after a head injury; if a patient is alert and able to hold a conversation, sleep may actually help them recover, but if the injury is more serious — e.g., they are having trouble walking, or their pupils are dilated — they should seek out a doctor first. Here are other symptoms of a concussion you might not think to look out for.
It's not widely known that concussion symptoms are actually divided into four camps: memory, physical, emotional and sleeping. And concussion can show up in your emotional make-up as you recover. Concussed brains are known to induce irritability, anger, feelings of depression, anxiety or generally more intense emotions. The American Association of Neurology notes that there's a tie between experiencing sensitivity to light (needing dark glasses, getting headaches or feeling overwhelmed by normal daylight) and having emotional symptoms after concussions — so if you have one, you'll likely have the other. It's unlikely that these emotional changes are permanent, and they should resolve as the concussion heals over the next three to five days.
2"Floaters" In Your Vision
After my husband whacked his head on a kitchen cupboard, he started to experience "floaters": small images floating across his field of vision, as if they were on the surface of his eye. Experiencing a concussion can have consequences for your vision too, and not because the optic nerve has been damaged. "Floaters" indicate an issue with the eye itself. They indicate that either the retina or the vitreus humor (the jelly) of the eye itself have become "detached" due to the impact, leaving small holes in your vision. This is rare, but if you experience it you should go to an eye specialist quickly to see what can be done to help.
The body's ability to balance can be pretty heavily compromised by a concussion. Balance tests often comprise one of the earliest tests for concussion; if you experience trouble staying upright or walking in a straight line, it's a signal that the head trauma has created issues with the feedback between your ears and your brain, which normally moderate your relationship with balance and the world around you.
4Sensitivity To Noise
Sensitivity to light is a relatively well-known symptom of brain injury, but according to the Center for Disease Control, people with concussion are often also sensitive to noise. Loud noises, or even ordinary background hubbub, often cause them distress and pain, which is one reason that going immediately back to work or study after a concussion is a bad idea: the brain will continually find the stimulation confusing.
According to the Brain Injury Association Of America, it's very common for people with concussion to experience amnesia around the event itself. This is called post-traumatic amnesia, and happens most often in those people whose concussion has actually involved unconsciousness. People with this may not remember other details about their life either. It's temporary, but can be very upsetting.
6Ringing In The Ears
Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, can show up temporarily after concussion because of two separate issues. One is damage to the inner ear itself, while the other is damage to the brain itself in the area that controls hearing. If people after a concussion act as if they can't hear properly and don't appear to be absorbing spoken information, this could be part of the reason why.
Concussions can mean that the pupils stop "lining up" properly because one keeps drifting slightly vertically, in a condition called vertical heterophoria. This is often invisible to the naked eye, but it can cause a host of symptoms, like seeing double, experiencing motion sickness, nausea, feeling nauseous for no apparent reason, and eye strain. An eye specialist can diagnose it pretty easily.
If you suspect somebody is experiencing a concussion, there's not much you can technically do for them, but the brain injury association Headway says that if they start to experience any troubling symptoms, like severe confusion, vomiting, double vision or clear fluid coming out of their nose (which could be spinal fluid), they need to go to hospital ASAP.