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Concussion (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury)

Your Care Instructions

What is a concussion/mild traumatic brain injury?

A concussion, also called a mild traumatic brain injury, is a head injury caused by the brain being shaken around inside the skull after a direct blow to the head, or a sudden jerking of the head or neck when the body is hit. Your child didn’t have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion. Some children will have symptoms of a concussion, such as passing out or forgetting what happened right before the injury, but others won't.

Common causes of a concussion/mild brain injury are falls, sports, physical assaults, and motor vehicle collisions.

When should my child go to the hospital?

There is more risk of complications such as bleeding and/or swelling in the brain in the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. However, complications can happen even weeks later.

Call 9-1-1 or go to the hospital right away if your child has any of these possible life threatening issues:

  • becomes less alert, won’t wake up, or is hard to wake up
  • doesn’t want to eat or breastfeed
  • loses a learned skill (for example: toilet training)
  • blood or fluid coming from the nose or ears, or bruising around the eyes or ears
  • has or acts like he or she has a headache
  • becomes very irritable/inconsolable
  • speech is slurred or has trouble speaking
  • loss of vision, blurry vision, or double vision
  • sudden weakness on one side of the body
  • more than 2 episodes of vomiting
  • seizure activity (such as abnormal movements, loss of consciousness)

The First 48 Hours

Make sure someone stays with your child for the first 24 hours after the concussion.

Rest and Sleep
  • Try to get your child to rest for the first 24 hours; it’s one of the best ways to help the brain heal. It’s okay to let your child sleep
  • You don’t have to wake up your child every 2 to 3 hours in the first 24 hours. If the doctor has asked that you do, your child should wake up easily and not show any of the warning signs above.
  • Limit reading, television, video games, etc. the first 48 hours. The brain needs to rest so that it can heal. Your child should take time off school.
  • Keep your child away from bright lights, loud noises, and crowds for the first 48 hours, as these can make symptoms worse.
  • No diet changes are suggested. Your child may experience some nausea after mild traumatic brain injury.
Managing Pain
  • Give your child acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (such as Advil® or Motrin®), for pain.

The First 4 Weeks

The symptoms below are common after a mild brain injury. They usually get better on their own within a few weeks:

  • feeling tired
  • problems falling or staying asleep
  • feeling confused, poor concentration, or slow to answer questions
  • feeling dizzy, poor balance, or poor coordination
  • being sensitive to light
  • being sensitive to sounds
  • ringing in the ears
  • a headache, sometimes with nausea and/or vomiting
  • being irritable, having mood swings, or feeling somewhat sad or “down”​

While Your Child’s Brain is Healing

  • Most children recover from the concussion. The symptoms can take days to weeks to go away. Your child should start to feel better within a few days and be back to normal within about 3 weeks.
  • If your child isn’t feeling better within a few days after the injury, see your doctor.
  • Expect your child to feel tired as he or she becomes more active. Make sure your child rests as needed but continues their return to school, activities, and normal sleep/wake times.
  • If you find your child is cranky or has mood swings, see your doctor if you’re worried.
  • Some children may find it hard to concentrate while their brain is healing, so make sure your child go back to his or her normal activities slowly. Go back to school for half days at first, and increase as tolerated.
  • Your child may require medical clearance for contact sport or competitive activities.
  • If your child plays sports, make sure the coach/instructor/teammates knows about your child’s concussion.
  • Use medicine as suggested on packaging. See your doctor if your child still needs pain medicine for a headache longer than 2 weeks after the injury. Limit the use of medications for headaches 2 weeks after injury to 2-3 times per week.

If your child’s symptoms get worse at any time or you notice new symptoms from the list above, call your healthcare provider, or Health Link Alberta - 811. You can also call Health Link Alberta 24/7 if you have questions about concussion/mild traumatic brain injury or any of the information on this page.

Current as of: April 6, 2018

Author: Pediatrics, Alberta Health Services