In recent years, concussions have been receiving increased attention in the medical community and the media. This is leading to better data collection and reporting, which has revealed that concussions occur more frequently than previously realized, particularly amongst athletes who play contact sports. It is important to note, however, that concussions are not limited to sports such as football, hockey, and soccer.

Car accidents also cause concussions, which often go overlooked due to other injuries or the victim’s inability to recognize the symptoms of the concussion.

In the event of a car accident, it is vital to recognize the signs of a concussion, understand the potential health impacts, and seek medical and legal advice as soon as possible.

Causes of a Concussion

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury resulting from the brain moving inside the skull. Car accidents can cause concussions in a variety of ways, including: 

  1. Sudden Impacts — When a vehicle collides with another vehicle or some other object, the sudden deceleration or acceleration can cause the brain to move within the skull, leading to injury.
  2. Whiplash — Rear-end collisions frequently result in whiplash injuries, which can cause the head to jolt back and forth. This can result in the brain moving within the skull, potentially leading to a concussion.
  3. Airbag Deployment — While airbags can protect you from a variety of injuries, they necessarily deploy with great speed and force. This has the potential to cause concussions, particularly for children or smaller adults.
  4. Secondary Impacts — In multi-vehicle accidents, there may be numerous impacts, sequentially or from multiple directions, increasing the likelihood of head injuries.

Diagnosing a Concussion

There can be a variety of challenges in diagnosing a concussion. Symptoms may not be immediately present but may take hours or days to appear. Even if you are experiencing symptoms such as a headache or nausea immediately after a car accident, you may ignore them or assume you’re just suffering from the ‘shock’ of the accident. Your attention may be focused on damage to more obvious injuries, the safety of your family or other passengers, or damage to your vehicle and dealing with other parties.

Medical diagnosis can be difficult. Concussions do not necessarily cause any bleeding or bruising in the brain, so they may not be detectable even with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans. Doctors must, therefore, conduct detailed neurological and cognitive testing and have comprehensive knowledge of the victim’s symptoms to make an accurate diagnosis.

For this reason, it is vital to be aware of — as well as document and report – all possible signs and symptoms of a concussion.

Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion

Concussions are generally classified into three different grades. However, different grading systems exist, including the Colorado Medical Society Guidelines, the Cantu Grading System, and the American Academy of Neurology Guidelines. The differences between these guidelines confirm that accurate concussion diagnosis requires substantial medical expertise and is not to be undertaken casually. 

What is important to understand from the grading systems is that a mild to moderate concussion may not involve any loss of consciousness. The American Academy of Neurology Guidelines classify any loss of consciousness as a Grade III (severe) concussion. Generally, more serious concussions will also involve some degree of post-trauma memory loss, which may last hours, days or longer.

Concussions can cause a variety of symptoms. You should seek medical attention and evaluation if you experience any of the following after a car accident or any other form of head trauma:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slurred speech
  • Vision abnormalities include difficulty focusing, phosphenes (i.e. “seeing stars”), etc.
  • Tinnitus (characterized by a ringing, whining, or hissing noise when no external source is present)
  • Amnesia (i.e. memory loss)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Emotional impacts such as irritability or mood swings

Post-Concussion Syndrome

Concussion symptoms typically resolve within a few weeks. However, some individuals may suffer from post-concussion syndrome, a complex condition that may cause symptoms to last for many months after the initial head trauma. For more information on risk factors, detection and treatment, please see our blog post on post-concussion syndrome.

Self-Care After a Concussion

According to the Mayo Clinic, “relative rest” is important to allow your brain to recover in the first few days after you have sustained a concussion. This means refraining from activities that require mental concentration and thinking. By contrast, complete rest (lying in a dark room and avoiding all stimuli) is not helpful or recommended.

You should also avoid physical exertion such as sports and other vigorous activities unless and until they don’t exacerbate any symptoms you may be experiencing. After a period of relative rest, engaging in light exercise and activity (that doesn’t increase your symptoms) has been shown to speed recovery.

It is important to consult with your doctor to ensure you are properly diagnosed and receive guidance on rest requirements and developing a treatment program tailored to your circumstances. 

If you are experiencing headaches or other pain, you should also ask your doctor what pain relief medications are safe for you to take. Some pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), may increase the risk of bleeding.

Seek Medical Care Immediately

If you have been involved in a car accident, it is important to see a doctor, even if you have minor or no apparent injuries. It is important to remember that the symptoms of a concussion may not occur for hours or even days after the accident. Their impacts on your health and well-being may endure for months or longer, particularly if not properly diagnosed and treated.

Records of your diagnosis and subsequent medical care will also be important evidence when seeking compensation for any damages you sustain or ongoing support you require as a result of an accident.

Our Calgary Personal Injury Lawyers Are Here To Assist You If You’ve Been Injured In A Car Accident

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident, contact the knowledgeable personal injury lawyers at Cuming Gillespie LLP to learn about your legal rights, what compensation you may be entitled to, and how best to document the impacts of the accident on your life and any losses and damages you have sustained. To set up an initial consultation with a member of our team, contact us online or by phone at 403-571-0555.