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While it's widely believed that everyone with a concussion requires an immediate CT scan or MRI, concussion damage occurs at the microscopic level and cannot be seen on MRI or CT scans of the brain, said Dr. Howard Derman, director of the Methodist Concussion Center in Houston.
A physical exam is required to assess patients for concussion signs and symptoms of concussion, which can appear immediately after the head injury or days later. Signs and symptoms include: appearing dazed or stunned; answering questions slowly; nausea and vomiting; sensitivity to light or noise; and an inability to recall events prior to the hit to the head.
Many people wrongly believe that treating concussion-related headaches might mask some concussion symptoms. Derman said over-the-counter pain relievers are fine okay to use in conjunction with a doctor-approved return-to-activity regimen. In some cases, prescription pain relievers may be needed.
Another common myth is that a person with a concussion should not fall asleep even though they may be drowsy. In fact, drowsiness is a common concussion symptom and getting rest is sometimes the best thing to do, Derman said.
Getting plenty of sleep and allowing the brain to heal results in a faster recovery. Family members or other caregivers should check on the concussed person at least every few hours to make sure they can be easily awakened, he advised.
Children and teens do not recover from concussions at the same rate as adults, as was once believed. Because of their ongoing brain development, children and teens are more susceptible to serious head injury and post-concussion syndrome, a complex set of neurologic and psychological disorders that can last for weeks or even years after the injury and interfere with school, social activities and relationships.
Another misconception is that concussion causes no long-term effects. In fact, long-term effects can include depression and anxiety; blurred and double vision; mental impairment and increased risk of early-onset dementia.
March is National Brain Injury Month.
-- Robert Preidt
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