Every time you turn on the TV or read the paper there seems to be a story about how tens of thousands of service members have suffered traumatic brain injuries during combat. There's no doubt that tens if not hundreds of thousands of men and women are dealing with the aftereffects of this cruel and devastating consequence of war.
The most common brain injury experienced by combat troops is called a concussion. A concussion is a mild brain injury. It's defined as either an alteration of consciousness (feeling dazed or confused — you don’t have to be knocked out) or a loss of consciousness that lasts less than 30 minutes.
Days, weeks and months following the concussion, people may experience memory loss, headaches, light sensitivity, and insomnia. It's also common for people to not remember the explosion (one doesn't have to get hit in the head to experience a concussion) or hit to the head that caused the problems.
Healing from a concussion is mostly a natural process that occurs within your body and mind over time. Just like any other injury, the healthier you are and the better lifestyle you lead, the better off you will be. Also, understanding that full recovery from a concussion is the norm goes a long way in keeping anxiety and depression in check, which helps the healing process.
In addition to giving yourself time, there are some other things you can do in the short-term to speed your recovery and reduce the negative long-term effects of a concussion.
- Don't drink. Alcohol interrupts recovery and healthy sleep cycles, which makes you more likely to get hurt again.
- Take it easy. During the critical days and weeks following a concussion, physical exertion only serves to make the symptoms worse, particularly headaches and dizziness. In fact, one of the ways some doctors make sure your concussion symptoms are gone is to make you physically exert yourself after it looks like your symptoms are gone. If they don’t come back after physical exertion, you are usually considered recovered.
- Don’t hurt yourself again. This is probably the most important recommendation. After you've had a concussion you're more likely to have another one. Having more than one makes recovery take longer. In young adults a second concussion within a few days of the first one can result in serious damage and lead to lifelong problems. So, wear your seatbelt, stay off the sports field, and fight the impulse to do a back flip off the tailgate of your buddy's truck until your brain is fully operational.
Remember, the expected outcome after a concussion is full recovery but you have to be smart. Don't drink, get plenty of rest and avoid high-risk activities. And if your symptoms persist, make sure to talk with your health care provider.