How is a concussion treated?

The main treatment for a concussion is rest. Your doctor may tell you to take time off from work or school. Over time, the symptoms will go away as your brain heals.

Symptoms typically last about 6 to 10 days, depending on how severe the concussion is. Most people get better within a week. People with symptoms that last more than one week should see their doctor.

General advice for treating a concussion includes the following:

  • Get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day.
  • Avoid visual and sensory stimuli, including video games and loud music.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Ease into normal activities slowly, not all at once.
  • Ask your doctor's opinion about when to return to work or school.
  • Make sure to let employers or teachers know that you had a concussion.
  • Avoid strenuous physical or mental tasks.
  • Avoid activities that could lead to another concussion, such as sports, certain amusement park rides, or (for children) playground activities.
  • Get your doctor's permission before driving, operating machinery, or riding a bike (since a concussion can slow one's reflexes).
  • If necessary, ask your employer if it is possible to return to work gradually (for example, starting with half-days at first). Students may need to spend fewer hours at school, have frequent rest periods, or more time to complete tests.
  • Take only those drugs approved by your doctor.
  • Do not drink alcohol without your doctor's okay. Alcohol and other drugs may slow recovery and increase the chance for further injury.
  • For some people, an airplane flight shortly after a concussion can make symptoms worse.
  • Avoid tiring activities such as heavy cleaning, exercising, working on the computer, or playing video games.
  • See your doctor again for testing before you resume your routines, including driving, sports, and play.

What if the head injury happens during a game or sport?

An injured athlete should come out of the game or practice to be tested on the sidelines by a person trained in concussion symptoms. An athlete with concussion symptoms should not play again that day, and should not play as long as symptoms last. The athlete might need to wait 1 to 2 weeks or longer before being cleared to play again.

Coaches and trainers can help the treatment process by noting the following information:

  • the cause of the injury
  • the force of the blow to the head or body
  • loss of consciousness and for how long
  • any memory loss following the injury
  • any seizures following the injury
  • number of previous concussions (if any)

What pain medications can be taken for a concussion?

In the first phase of concussion, the person should not take any pain medications. A pain medication can "mask" the symptoms, which could allow someone to return to activities with a concussion.

After a concussion is diagnosed, acetaminophen can be used; however, it should not be given just to cover up headaches. Aleve and ibuprofen (NSAID-type medications) should not be used at first, as they may increase the risk of bleeding.

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