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After a Concussion, Watch for Red Flags

Posted May 6, 2016

By Mackenzie Simmons, ATC

Over the past decade, there has been increased awareness about concussions in sports and other athletic activities. As the number of Athletic Trainers (ATs) has grown in a variety of settings, the rate of concussions has gradually increased as well. This is partially due to the fact that ATs are educated extensively in concussions, including baseline testing, diagnosis and return-to-play protocols. We are on the sidelines at many sporting events, which allows us to witness the traumatic impacts that cause concussions. We are trained in multiple testing systems that allow us to compare baseline scores to post-impact scores and educated in return-to-play guidelines that gradually allow an athlete to increase activity without stressing the brain.

Concussion symptoms will differ from athlete to athlete. While there are standard signs and symptoms for concussions, there are certain symptoms that warrant a more serious injury. There are several red flags that will indicate that the injury is more than just a concussion:

- Deterioration of neurological function

- Decreasing level of consciousness

- Decreasing or irregular respirations or pulse

- Unequal, unreactive, or dilated pupils

- Skull fracture (including cerebrospinal fluid from the nose or ears)

- Decreasing mental status and seizures

If an athlete presents with any of these aforementioned behaviors, he or she needs to immediately be referred to a physician. The athlete may have a secondary injury, including subdural hematoma, epidural hematoma, skull fracture or a cerebral contusion. Be thorough when evaluating for a concussion to ensure that these life-threatening injuries are handled appropriately.