First Aid and Treatment for Concussions

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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It can be easy to ignore a bump to the head. But even if a head injury seems minor, it's important to follow the proper first aid steps.

Certain symptoms — including headache, dizziness, nausea and confusion — are clear signs you need medical attention. They're signs of a concussion, and seeking treatment can help prevent serious complications.

Serious Warning Signs: What to Do

Act quickly after a hard blow to the head. Some symptoms can be signs of a serious brain injury. Call 911 right away for emergency help for any of these symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness, even for a short time

  • The pupil of one eye being larger than the other

  • Blood or fluid leaking from the head, such as the nose

  • Seizures

  • Nausea or vomiting that persists

  • Severe headache

  • Feeling very sleepy

  • Mental symptoms such as confusion

  • Problems with balance or weak muscles

If possible, do not move a person who has these serious symptoms. He or she should lie very still until help arrives. If possible, keep the person's head and shoulders slightly higher than the rest of the body. Do not remove any clothing or headgear, like a helmet.
Try to stop any bleeding. Put steady, firm pressure on the area, using a clean cloth. However, do not apply pressure to a bleeding head injury if you think there might be a skull fracture.

If the person isn't breathing, moving or coughing, perform CPR. First call 911, or identify someone else to call.

Concussion First Aid

Sometimes it's not clear whether a head injury has resulted in a concussion. To be safe, assume it has. If the person was injured while playing a sport, he or she needs to leave the game right away and not return to play. A 911 call or a trip to an emergency room for testing and treatment for possible concussion is important any time someone has a head injury. This is especially the case if the person lost consciousness.

Be aware that concussion symptoms may not appear right away. In fact, it might take several hours or even days. A doctor should perform an exam without delay after a head injury. Your doctor will perform a physical as well as a neurological exam to identify changes in mental status and other signs of concussion. A thorough examination can help prevent serious consequences, such as bleeding in the brain. A doctor can also explain when it's safe to work, go to school, drive or play sports again after a concussion or possible concussion.

What to Do for a Concussion

Rest is the main treatment for concussion, as it gives the brain time to heal. You probably won't need any special medications. If you have headaches, take acetaminophen. Do not take aspirin, which can cause bleeding.

Also, avoid heavy exercise and any activity that requires concentration, such as readying, playing games, or studying. Your doctor will provide you a complete list of activity do’s and don’ts after a concussion.

The Bottom Line on Seeing a Doctor

If you, your child or a loved one has a head injury that's more than a light bump, it's always a good idea to get a checkup. Remember a concussion is a serious injury that needs medical attention. Only testing by a doctor can confirm or rule it out.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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