Frequently asked questions

What is a brain injury?

Brain injury is a general term referring to any injury to the brain. The following are all examples of brain injury:

  • Strokes and aneurysms
  • Infections, such as meningitis
  • Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
  • Brain tumours
  • Neurotoxic disorders: drugs and alcohol, pesticides, gases, solvents can all lead to a brain injury

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is injury to the brain resulting from externally inflicted trauma. There are 2 types of TBI:

Closed: blunt impact or blow to the head without penetrating the skull e.g. motor vehicle crash, fall.

Open: when skull penetrated by a sharp object or an explosive missile e.g. bullet wounds.

The major causes of TBI are motor vehicle crashes, followed by sports injuries, assaults and falls. The highest risk groups for sustaining TBI are children under 5 years of age, men aged 15-30 years, and the elderly.

Severity of Injury

TBIs are classified as mild, moderate or severe injuries, depending on the length of time a person has been unconscious and the loss of memory they have. Mild TBI is also known as a concussion.

Is a concussion a brain injury?

Yes! A concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury, occurs from a blow to the head or violent shaking. It is a very common injury in New Zealand, with approximately 24,000 cases every year.

What are the signs that I’ve had a concussion?

Some immediate signs that a person has sustained a concussion include:

  • Appears dazed
  • Confused
  • Poor balance and lack of coordination
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Runs in the wrong direction
  • Forgets events that occurred before and after impact
  • Loses consciousness – but it is important to remember that a person can sustain a concussion without losing consciousness

A person may complain of:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
  • Ringing in ears

What should I do if I think I’ve had a concussion?

If you have had a concussion, or think you have a concussion TAKE IT SERIOUSLY and see your doctor. Problems could arise over the first 24 hours. You must go to the hospital if you:

  • Have a headache that gets worse
  • Are very drowsy or can’t be woken up
  • Can’t recognise people or places
  • Pass out or have a blackout
  • Vomit more than 3 times
  • Behave unusually or seem confused
  • Have seizures
  • Have weak arms or legs, or are unsteady on your feet
  • Slurred speech

The person looking after you needs to get you straight to the hospital or call 111 if they notice any of the above symptoms. Don’t hesitate – remember, it is better to be safe.

Am I allowed to sleep after a concussion?

Going to sleep is okay. If the person who is injured is awake and holding a conversation, you can let them fall asleep as long as they are not developing any other symptoms such as dilated pupils or issues with walking. It is advisable that for at least the first 12 hours, someone should wake up the concussed person every 2 or 3 hours. You can ask a simple question, such as their name, and then look for any other changes in the way they look or act. If a person cannot be woken normally, then medical help must be sought. Our brain recovers during sleep. Sleep is even more important when recovering from a concussion.

Is it safe to drink alcohol after a concussion?

No. Do not drink alcohol or take sleeping pills for at least 48 hours after a suspected concussion.

Is it safe to drive after a concussion?

No – do not drive for at least 24 hours. You can drive again when you stop feeling giddy and you feel well enough; if you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.

What kind of pain relief is safe after a concussion?

It is safe to take paracetamol for the headache. Don’t take medication containing aspirin or dispirin for the next 4 days. This type of medicine can make you bleed more from cuts and bruises.

Can I play sport again after a concussion?

You can – but you must recover fully first! You must stand down from sport for at least 3 weeks AND you should not return to sport or training until you are symptom free AND have medical clearance. That way you’ll return 100% ready for play. Repeated concussions have a cumulative effect, so if you keep having concussions you may end up with a more serious injury and a permanent disability. Second Impact Syndrome – acute brain swelling and bleeding that occurs when a second concussion is sustained before the first one has healed properly. This can be difficult to treat, and can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of a brain injury?

While the symptoms of a brain injury will vary greatly from case to case, this is a general list of symptoms to watch for:

Mild TBI
In most people, symptoms resolve within 1-14 days. Some might have ongoing symptoms for up to 3 months, and in about 10% of people these symptoms persist for more than 6 months. This is known as Post Concussion Syndrome.

Moderate to Severe TBI
If a person has sustained a moderate to severe TBI, they are likely to have some level of physical, cognitive or behavioural disability. These include:

Fatigue

Physical problems

  • Mobility problems
  • Pain: headaches, soft tissue pain, touch sensitivity
  • Speech articulation, swallowing difficulties
  • Sensory difficulties: hearing, taste, smell, vision, touch, proprioception

Cognitive problems

  • Attention and memory problems
  • Reduced problem solving and speed of processing
  • Language difficulties
  • Cognitive inflexibility
  • Impaired insight

Emotional and behavioural problems

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Absence of behaviour
  • Lack of drive to do things
  • Desire to undertake but failure to initiate
  • Excess of behaviour
  • Agitation
  • Impulsivity
  • Perseveration: getting stuck
  • Verbal and physical aggression

Job loss/disruption

Difficulty with social interaction and family relationships