How to Tell If You Have a Concussion: Causes, Symptoms & Signs

Posted on April 15, 2020 in

, by Northport Wellness Center


Woman with headache in pain, possibly with concussion

The brain is cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid and protected by three membranes (called meninges) and the bones of the skull. When these lines of defense are disrupted by a violent blow or jolt, “This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This chain of events could result in a concussion, a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

There are several external factors that can lead to a concussion.

Causes of a Concussion

The leading causes of concussions seen in emergency departments include falls, motor vehicle-related injuries, unintentionally being struck by or against an obstacle, assaults, and athletic activities. 

Over the years, concussions in high school sports have grabbed headlines; parents, coaches, and medical experts attempt to implement prevention methods. 

The CDC analyzed data from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey to estimate the number of high school students experiencing concussions each year. The health protection agency found approximately 2.5 million reported having at least one concussion 12 months before the survey, and 6 percent reported two or more. The assessment also concluded males and students who played on one or more sports teams were at a higher risk of concussion. 

Multiple studies have assessed which sports cause the highest concussion rates. A National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study database collected data on 9,542 concussions across 20 high school sports between the 2013-2014 and 2017-2018 school years. CNN reported the data found boys’ football had the highest rate, at 10.4 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures. This was followed by girls’ soccer,  with 8.19 per 10,000, and boys’ ice hockey, with 7.69 per 10,000. 

Because concussions affect so many, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms to look out for, across all age groups. 

Signs & Symptoms of a Concussion

Those afflicted with a concussion can exhibit a number of symptoms. These depend on the type: mild, moderate, or severe. Some show up just after the injury, while others appear within a few hours or days. Check out Northport Wellness Center’s blog “Are There Different Types of Concussions?” to learn how long the symptoms last for each kind. 

According to the CDC, the general signs and symptoms of a concussion can often be grouped into four categories: thinking/remembering, sleep disturbance, emotional/mood, and physical. 


  • Difficulty thinking clearly & concentrating 
  • A feeling of slowness
  • Slow to answer questions
  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Inability to recall events prior to the hit/fall (memory loss)
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Exhibits confusions about an assignment or position
  • Trouble concentrating

Sleep Disturbance

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping more/less than usual


  • Irritability
  • Nervousness/anxiety
  • Sadness


  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Balance issues
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Tiredness or sluggishness
  • Slow reaction to stimuli
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea or vomiting

Because infants and children can’t walk or talk, they don’t show all the signs and symptoms of children and adults making it tough to definitively know if they’ve experienced a concussion. Symptoms to look for include vomiting; drainage from mouth, ears or nose; drowsiness; non-stop crying; inability to be consoled; and refusal to nurse or eat.

In some rare cases, a hematoma (collection of blood outside of a blood vessel) can form on the brain after a concussion. There are specific danger signs and symptoms to alert loved ones and medical professionals this has occurred, including:

  • Enlargement of one pupil
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A worsening headache
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness 
  • Numbness 
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Unusual behavior

If you observe any concussion symptoms, you should speak with a healthcare provider immediately. If you notice any dangerous signs, call 9-1-1 right away. 

The Northport Wellness Center offers a Concussion Recovery Program to diagnose the severity of a concussion and develop an individualized treatment and recovery plan. For some treatments, we collaborate with our Wellness Alliance members to provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic care, neurofeedback therapy, and more. 

To learn more about concussions, check out our blog ”Concussion Recovery Time: How Long Does It Take to Heal?



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