The brain is an amazing thing. It’s a couple of pounds of greyish material that basically serves as a conducter for the electrical energy that jumps from synapse to synapse allowing us to do everything from breathing to forming a logical train of thought. Just as everyone’s brain reacts differently to stimuli, our brains react differently when they are injured. One person can slam their head into a window during a violent accident and suffer no traumatic brain injury whatsoever, while another person can fall down some stairs and lightly bump their heads and have traumatic brain injury due to a “concussion”. What is a concussion?

People in the medical field used to think a concussion was boilerplate – every patient who suffered one had the same basic symptoms and the treatment was always the same for every patient. New scanning technologies; however, have shown that different patients show injury and damage to different parts of the brain. This explains why some people recover from concussions in a matter of days, but other victims will suffer for years or even a lifetime with neurological damage. Some concussion patients lose their sense of smell, while others suddenly develop an aversion to wine even though they loved it before the crash. As many as 30% of people who suffer from concussions will experience some form of neurological damage for the rest of their lives.

There are different factors involved in how severe a concussion is – from the angle of the impact of the person’s head when it hits another object or the ground to what specific part of the brain was impacted by the concussion. The majority of damage from a concussion is from swelling of the brain and, if it is determined that a person is suffering massive swelling, extreme interventions from shunts to drain away the fluid to actually removing part of the skull to allow the brain to swell unimpeded can be pursued.

One of the interesting, and potentially life altering, symptoms of a concussion is a change in behavior.  This is an extremely common occurrence for people who have suffered a concussion and usually last 1 – 2 weeks; however, it can last a lifetime. Other side effects of concussions are seizures, depression and anger, inability to remember information or learn new information, and headaches and loss of equilibrium.

Outside of dealing with the physical effects of a concussion, there is not much that modern medicine can do to alleviate the damage that occurs after one happens. Physical therapy can help regain motor skills and memory. The types of physical therapy a patient will undergo after receving brain damage due to a concussion is similar to that of stroke and Alzheimer’s patients.

While we can wear helmets while riding a bike or motorcycle or even riding horseback, we spend the vast majority of our time in this life only protected by our skulls. The fact that you could have a fairly minor accident, but yet suffer a life altering serious concussions means that you should always seek medical attention if you suffer a blow to the head, no matter how minor. If you feel very sleepy, lose the ability to walk steadily, or suffer a severe headache or vision impairment after a blow to the head, call 911 and do not attempt to drive.