Know the Signs: Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury

It’s been well over a decade since the shocking death of healthy, vibrant, 45-year-old actress Natasha Richardson brought international attention to the genuine danger of a head injury that at first seems like no big deal.

A mild topple on a beginner ski slope resulted in a tragic brain injury when Richardson’s head hit hard-packed snow. Feeling fine at first, she declined medical help. Within hours, however, confusion and headache sent her to the hospital. Though she initially seemed stable, her condition deteriorated rapidly. Two days later, surrounded by family, Richardson was removed from life support.

Every year, several million Americans, adults, and children are treated in emergency rooms or admitted to the hospital for concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Sadly, according to CDC statistics,166 people die every day from complications related to TBI.

It’s essential to be evaluated after a blow to the head, even if there’s no visible injury or at first it seems like nothing is wrong. It’s also crucial to know the warning signs and stay vigilant as symptoms can develop slowly—in the case of concussion, the effects may not be apparent for hours or days.

A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (mTBI)—and the most common, accounting for approximately 3/4 of all TBI—from which most people fully recover. A concussion happens when the brain is bruised by moving inside the skull, and it may occur due to blunt-force trauma or a severe jolt, even if the incident itself does not seem particularly dramatic. Though a concussion is rarely fatal, it can produce serious complications, and repeated concussions can be life-threatening, especially before the brain has fully healed (second-impact syndrome).

A moderate to severe traumatic brain injury is very serious, a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. TBI may be caused by a powerful blow to the head or an injury that fractures or penetrates the skull. In some cases, including Richardson’s, complications—such as compression caused by blood accumulating between brain and skull (epidural hematoma)—can result in coma or even death.

There are many causes of head injury. Some of the most common include:

  • Motor vehicle or bicycle accidents
  • Falls (on the ice, down the stairs, off a ladder, out of bed)
  • Sports injuries (frequent culprits include football, rugby, boxing, ice hockey, skiing/snowboarding, and even soccer)
  • Construction site accidents
  • Combat or violence (explosions and bullet wounds in the military; domestic violence, including shaken baby syndrome)

What to look for after an accident:

First, it’s essential to know that concussion, and TBI symptoms vary greatly person-to-person. Symptoms can be easy to miss, and the injured individual may not acknowledge or even realize they are having problems. Consult a physician after a head injury. Although medical intervention cannot always change the outcome, getting evaluated and treated right away may be critical.

Signs and Symptoms:


  • May take a few hours to develop symptoms
  • Headache or neck pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue, lethargy, low energy
  • Nausea or vomiting shortly after injury
  • Light/noise are bothersome
  • Vision problems
  • Feeling/acting “foggy” or “out of it”
  • Grogginess
  • Feeling/acting very emotional
  • Sleeping more or less than usual, or trouble falling asleep
  • Sometimes, there is a loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes, which may be followed by brief amnesia

 Traumatic Brain Injury:

Danger signs – Call 911 immediately

In an adult:

  • A headache that gets worse or won’t go away
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Repeated or ongoing vomiting
  • One pupil dilated larger than the other
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or unusual behavior
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure or convulsions
  • Drowsiness, keeps falling asleep, or won’t wake up
  • Not recognizing familiar people or places
  • Restlessness or agitation

In a child:

  • Any of the above signs, and/or:
  • Becomes inconsolable, will not stop crying
  • Won’t eat, drink, breastfeed

After a head injury, a doctor will examine vision, coordination, balance, reflexes, memory, thinking, etc., and may order a CT or MRI to determine the type of injury and course of treatment.

Healing from a concussion requires time for the brain to rest, and the patient will need to modify activities for a while. That includes refraining from physical exercise or anything that involves the risk of another bump to the head. The patient will also want to minimize screen time, reading, and so forth.

Severe TBI may require medication, surgery to repair the skull or remove blood clots, or even a medically induced coma to rest the brain. Recovery from TBI can be long and slow, and unfortunately, some survivors experience lifelong complications.

The Orange County brain injury lawyers at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn has successfully represented numerous traumatic brain injury victims in Orange County, California, and Nationwide. Our law firm has the compassion, resources, and experience to consult brain injury victims. Our results include a $23 million jury verdict on behalf of a 13-year-old boy who sustained severe brain damage in a car collision. We also obtained a $20 million settlement (and estimated over $100,000,000 payout) for an 8-year-old boy who suffered a brain injury after falling from a soft-contained playground at a prominent fast-food chain.