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What Does a Concussion Do to the Brain?

brain injury lawyer in san diegoAround 1.5 million individuals in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury each year, many of those injuries are concussions incurred in motor vehicle accidents, falls, violence, and sports or recreation-related activities. A concussion is commonly referred to as “mild” traumatic brain injury.

For many people, however, the injury is anything but mild, resulting in chronic headaches and long-lasting symptoms, such as dizziness and memory loss. If you or your child has suffered a concussion, read on for more information about what this type of injury does to the brain.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury, which is damage to the brain that is generally caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. While considered a mild brain injury for which doctors most often prescribe rest, there is nothing mild about any brain injury, as injuries to the brain often result in permanent deficits and chronic pain. The thick, bony protection of the skull and the cerebrospinal fluid cushion the brain from everyday bumps and jolts.

A traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion, results when the protective capabilities of the skull and cerebrospinal fluid fail to protect the brain from sharply striking the skull. Falls are the most common cause of concussions.

Other common causes of concussions include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents;
  • Intentional acts of violence, such as domestic violence, child abuse, or assault;
  • Combat-related activities, including transportation accidents and injuries caused by explosive blasts; and
  • Sports and recreation-related activities, including high-contact sports such as football or rugby, as well as recreational activities such as horseback riding or cycling.

The symptoms of a concussion can vary widely, depending on the area of the brain that sustains the injury. Concussions rarely result in a loss of consciousness, or generally for only a brief time.

Symptoms of a concussion commonly include:

  • Headache;
  • Ringing in the ears;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Fatigue or drowsiness;
  • Blurred vision;
  • The feeling of being in a fog;
  • Loss of memory of events that happened just before or just after the injury;
  • Sensitivity to light or noise; and
  • Sleep disturbances.

The Short-Term Impacts of a Concussion

Most individuals will experience concussion symptoms that resolve within one to three weeks if the injured individual complies with physician instructions that generally include:

  • Removal from activities that cause physical or mental exertion for at least 24 hours after cessation of concussion symptoms. Rest is one of the most important components of recovering from the injury. In fact, studies of student-athletes who suffered concussions revealed that those students who continued to play after the injury were nine times more likely to experience symptoms that linger longer than the expected recovery period. In addition to sports activities, school, or work, individuals can limit the presence of other issues that can increase recovery time after a concussion, such as screen time, exposure to bright lights or sound, and activities that involve moving the head or neck.
  • A medical evaluation, even if sideline tests indicate that a concussion was not incurred. Only a medical evaluation can ensure that you have not suffered a traumatic brain injury. Likewise, a healthcare professional is best positioned to determine if an individual has sufficiently recovered from concussion symptoms and can return to regular duties, including work, school, and physical exercise.
  • Careful monitoring of symptoms, including noticing when the symptoms are the most severe, which can indicate that more rest is needed before resuming normal activities.

The Long-Term Impacts of a Concussion

There is no scientific evidence indicating that most people who suffer a simple concussion and are not athletes can expect long term consequences of the injury, provided they allow the brain to fully heal before resuming high-impact activities such as sports competitions, exercise, or physical work. However, approximately 20 percent of individuals who suffer a concussion experience lingering symptoms of the injury past the expected recovery period of three weeks.

Failure to let the brain rest and recover adequately can give rise to health concerns including post-concussion syndrome, secondary impact syndrome, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Post-Concussion Syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome refers to symptoms of a concussion that linger after the expected recovery period of one to three weeks.

The diagnosis is generally made if at least one of the following symptoms is present three months after sustaining the initial injury:

  • Headache;
  • Dizziness;
  • Fatigue;
  • Memory problems;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Sleeping problems, including difficulty waking up from sleep or insomnia;
  • Restlessness or irritability;
  • Depression or anxiety;
  • Changes to personality or behavior; and
  • Sensitivity to noise and light.

It is not currently known exactly why some people suffer post-concussion syndrome, though it has been proven that the severity of the initial injury is not an indicator of who will acquire the condition. However, there do seem to be some conditions that increase one’s risks of suffering this complication after incurring a concussion.

Those who are most likely to experience post-concussion syndrome include:

  • Individuals who are over the age of 40; and
  • Those with pre-existing psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Second Impact Syndrome

Second impact syndrome is the rapid swelling of the brain that is caused when an individual suffers a second concussion before the symptoms of the first concussion have subsided. While this condition is rare, it almost always results in severe brain damage or even death within minutes as the brain suddenly loses its ability to regulate cerebrospinal fluid pressure. A softer blow can precipitate the second concussion and trigger second impact syndrome. It needn’t strike the head directly, just any body part that causes a sudden movement of the head or neck.

Athletes often experience second impact syndrome. When the second impact occurs, the individual may not even lose consciousness, and can often even complete the play before collapsing on the sideline. The condition generally worsens rapidly at that point, including loss of consciousness, loss of eye movement, dilated pupils, and even respiratory failure.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), also known as dementia pugilistica, is a progressive, degenerative disease that affects individuals who have suffered repeated concussions or traumatic brain injuries. The condition most commonly affects athletes and military members who have suffered repeated concussions from combat-related service or training.

In this condition, ongoing brain damage actually results in a loss of brain mass.

CTE symptoms include:

  • Loss of memory;
  • Difficulty controlling impulsive or erratic behavior;
  • Impaired judgment;
  • Behavioral disturbances including aggression or depression;
  • Difficulty with balanced motion; and
  • The gradual onset of dementia.

Until recently, CTE was only diagnosable through post-mortem testing for the presence of tau protein in the brain. However, modern diagnostic tests have led to better diagnosing of the early symptoms of CTE in living patients.

Emergency Symptoms After a Concussion

Concussions involve damage to the brain. In some circumstances, this damage can worsen after the injury, resulting in potentially fatal bleeding on the brain.

If you or your loved one experiences any of the following symptoms after suffering a concussion, you should seek emergency medical treatment immediately:

  • Repeated nausea or vomiting;
  • Loss of consciousness lasting more than 30 seconds;
  • A headache that worsens over time;
  • Difficulty recognizing known people or places, or other evidence of confusion;
  • Obvious difficulty accomplishing mental or physical tasks;
  • Blood or fluid draining from the nose or ears;
  • Vision or eye disturbances, including dilated pupils or one pupil that is larger than the other;
  • Ringing in the ears that doesn’t go away over time;
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs;
  • Changes in behavior;
  • A pale appearance lasting more than an hour;
  • Slurring or other changes to the individual’s speech;
  • Seizures;
  • Lasting or recurrent dizziness; and
  • Symptoms that worsen over time.

How to Protect Your Brain After a Concussion

If you have received a concussion, the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury is the most important time to protect your brain and begin healing.

Here are some suggestions for ensuring that this acute period after the injury aid in healing instead of standing in the way of your recovery:

  • Contrary to popular belief, it is usually not dangerous to allow a person to sleep several hours or even several days after a concussion, and many people experience fatigue after the injury that is primarily treated through rest. The time in which the most concerning of complications from the injury can arise is generally within the first three hours. During this time, avoid sleep, closely monitor the individual, and any immediately report worsening symptoms to a medical provider.
  • Avoid activities that are physically demanding or mentally draining while you are recovering from your brain injury, such as house cleaning, weight lifting, or managing finances while your brain is recovering. Only resume normal activities when your doctor has advised you that it is safe to do so, and reintroduce activities slowly, pausing that reintroduction if you begin to experience the return of symptoms that had already subsided or the worsening of existing symptoms.
  • Avoid activities that could result in a second concussion, such as contact or recreational sports.
  • Remember that your response time to emergencies can be impacted by the injury. Be sure to clear it with your doctor before you resume activities such as driving a car, riding a bike, or operating heavy equipment.
  • Refrain from using alcohol or other drugs during your recovery, as these can impede the recovery process.
  • Stay hydrated. Hydration is important for the healing of concussions, increasing the protective capabilities of the meninges—the tissue that covers the brain—and decreasing the level of inflammation following the injury.
  • If you’re monitoring a person with a concussion, have them stand for you every 20 minutes during times of wakefulness, to see how the individual’s balance is affected. Is the injured person wobbly when they stand? Are they swaying back and forth? Report any worsening ofbalance during the first 48 hours after the injury to your healthcare provider.
  • Be careful with pain relief medications. While pain relievers can assist with symptoms such as a headache, avoid them in the first 48 hours after the concussion occurs because they can mask the worsening of symptoms that would suggest the need for further medical treatment.
  • If you find yourself struggling in the early hours and days after your injury to remember things, try writing them down to assist you in completing any tasks that you cannot complete until after your concussion symptoms subside.

Pursuing Compensation for Your Concussion

Concussions are serious injuries that can result in life-altering or even fatal complications. If you or your loved one incurred a concussion from someone else’s careless or reckless actions, you can pursue compensation related to your injury through a traumatic brain injury lawsuit. This is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove who is legally responsible for your injury as well as to show the out-of-pocket expenses and quality-of-life impacts you have experienced as a result of your injury.

Attorney John Gomez
Traumatic Brain Injury Attorney, John Gomez

If you’ve sustained a concussion due to someone else’s negligent actions, you should contact an experienced traumatic brain injury attorney to handle your claim. Most traumatic brain injury attorneys offer free consultations, during which you can discuss the details of your injury and determine your eligibility to seek compensation for your damages. For a free case review, contact an experienced attorney online today.

Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, Ca 92101

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