What Will the ER Do for a Concussion? Overview & Steps

If you've suffered a concussion, the ER will conduct tests to assess your condition and provide appropriate treatment to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

A concussion is a type of brain injury from a sudden movement or shake of the head. This can damage brain cells and cause chemical changes.1 Concussions make your brain more susceptible to further harm until it’s healed. When you visit the emergency room (ER) for a concussion, the team there will check you fast. They will use exams, tests, and scans to understand how badly you’re hurt.1 They will start by treating your symptoms right away. Then, they’ll keep an eye on you to stop any issues from getting worse. Going to the ER is crucial if your head injury seems serious or your symptoms are getting worse.1

Key Takeaways

  • The ER will assess the severity of a concussion through exams, tests, and scans.
  • They focus on keeping symptoms under control and stopping problems.
  • If a head injury is bad or if symptoms are worsening, going to the ER is the best choice.
  • Dignity Health offers quick help for concussions at many places in Arizona.
  • Try using the InQuickerâ„¢ tool to cut down on waiting times in the ER if you have a concussion.

Understanding Concussions

A concussion happens when the brain is hit, jolted, or moved suddenly.1 This injures brain cells and changes how the brain works.1 Falls, hard hits, car accidents, and blows to the head can cause this.1 Symptoms are often hard to spot and can include trouble focusing, feeling dizzy, or a bad headache.1 You might also feel confused, have memory issues, feel sick to your stomach, act different, or be sensitive to light and sound.1

Definition of a Concussion

A concussion is a brain injury from a quick or strong movement of the brain.1 It causes chemical changes inside the brain and hurts brain cells.1 After a concussion, the brain is more easily hurt again until it gets better.1

Causes of Concussions

Violent hits to the head or neck are the main causes of concussions.2 Certain activities, like football or boxing, or accidents like falls and car crashes, can also lead to concussions.2 People with a history of brain injuries and those involved in contact sports are at a higher risk.2

Common Symptoms of Concussions

Grown-ups with concussions might have trouble seeing clearly, feel confused, or have a bad headache.2 They could also feel lightheaded, have mood swings, or feel like throwing up.2 Kids and teenagers may deal with similar symptoms but might also suffer from tiredness, feeling sick all the time, and trouble focusing.2

When to Seek Emergency Care

If you or someone you know has been in an accident and now finds it hard to walk or talk, has blurry vision, or severe headaches, you should head to the ER.3 Also, if signs of a concussion like getting worse, or you spot new problems in the first day, it’s time to seek emergency care.3 Changes in alertness, the way you see, move, talk, remember, or act could be serious.

Signs of a Severe Head Injury

Symptoms like it’s tough to walk or talk, can’t see clearly, passed out, or has a really bad headache mean someone might have a severe head injury.3 If you see these signs after an accident, quick emergency care is needed. There could be a big issue that needs fixing soon.

Worsening Symptoms

Concussion symptoms that get worse or bring new issues within a day after the injury need urgent medical help.3 Get this checked out fast. It might be a sign of a serious issue that must be looked at quickly.

worsening concussion symptoms

Diagnosing Concussions at the ER

At the ER, when you might have a concussion, doctors check many things. They look at your reflexes, how well you move, your eye size, and more.4 They also test your thinking to see how your memory, focus, and recalling are doing.4

Neurological Exam

The ER’s neurological exam helps find out if you have a concussion. Doctors check how you move, talk, see, and your balance. This tells them how hurt your brain might be.2

Cognitive Testing

They also test your brain with memory and problem tasks. They want to see how you concentrate and what you remember.2

Imaging Tests

If things seem very bad, you might get an MRI or CT scan. These show if your brain has damage that needs surgery.4 These tests help figure out how hurt you are and what care you need.4

These checks help doctors know how bad your head is hurt. By testing your body and mind, they can make a good plan. They manage your symptoms and watch for problems.42

Emergency Concussion Treatment

In the ER, the key treatment for concussion is rest, both physically and mentally.1 You should avoid things like using screens, reading, or schoolwork. Also, your doctor might suggest taking acetaminophen for your headache. They’ll tell you not to take ibuprofen, which could make bleeding more likely.1 The ER might keep you overnight to watch for any changes if your symptoms are serious.1

See also  How Much Force Does It Take to Get a Concussion?

Physical and Mental Rest

Rest is crucial for concussion treatment. This means no intense activities or use of screen devices.1 Such downtime helps your brain recover from the injury.

Pain Management

For headache pain with a concussion, your doctor might recommend acetaminophen.1 They will warn against certain medicines that could make bleeding more likely.

Observation Period

If your concussion symptoms are severe, the ER might keep you for observation.1 This ensures they catch any complications early and keep you stable.

Pros and Cons of Going to the ER

Advantages of the ER

One big plus of the ER for a concussion is the chance to use CT scans and MRIs. These can find brain issues like bleeding fast.4 ER also offers lots of medicines. You can see specialists there too if you need to.4

Disadvantages of the ER

But, going to the ER can cost more money. Most ER doctors aren’t experts in treating concussions. So, they might not follow the latest guidelines or offer the right aftercare.2

Urgent Care vs. ER for Concussions

If you think you have a concussion, you might not need to go to the ER. That’s because the vast majority of people with concussions seen in the ER are fine to go home the same day.4 Places like urgent care can look at your concussion to see how bad it is. They make sure to check you enough but cost less than the ER.4

Urgent care spots have rules to spot very sick people quickly. If they think you need more help, they’ll send you to the ER. This means most people with minor head injuries can just go to urgent care. It’s easier to get to and costs less.5

Advantages of Urgent CareAdvantages of the ER
  • Faster than waiting for a doctor’s appointment, especially on evenings and weekends5
  • Equipped to treat mild concussion symptoms and provide prescriptions5
  • More affordable than a trip to the ER4
  • Open 24/7, including weekends and holidays4
  • Access to advanced imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs5
  • Wide range of medications and access to specialists if needed

If your head injury isn’t too serious, urgent care could be your best bet.6 They’re really good at quickly looking at your injury and deciding what to do about it. This speeds up your recovery and keeps you safe.6

What Will the ER Do for a Concussion?

When you get to the ER for a concussion, the team will first learn about the injury and your signs. They will ask how the injury happened and if you fainted. You’ll also talk about the symptoms you feel.1 They check how alert you are with the Glasgow Coma Scale. This test looks at your thinking, following directions, and movements.

Information Gathering

The ER team wants to know the details of what caused your concussion. They ask about the kind of hit or force your head took. This could be a fall, strong body hit, whiplash, or a direct head blow.1 Knowing this helps the doctors see how serious your concussion might be. It also shows if some other issue helped cause the injury.

Glasgow Coma Scale

The Glasgow Coma Scale checks how awake and aware you are after a head injury. It looks at if you open your eyes, talk or make sounds, and move following commands. This tells the ER team a lot about your brain injury. Then, they know better what to do next in your care.

Imaging Tests

If your signs are very bad or the ER team thinks your brain injury might be serious, they might do imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI.1 These tests find things like skull breaks, bleeding, or swelling. It can help the doctors see what medical help you might need right away. They use these test results to plan how to treat you. They also watch out for any possible problems that might come up.

The ER team quickly figures out how bad your concussion is by looking at your info, checking your brain function, and doing tests. This way, they can give you the best care on the spot. This careful way of checking helps make sure serious head injuries get found fast. They are treated to keep more problems from happening.

Post-Concussion Care

After the ER, your post-concussion care involves a slow return to normal. Your doctor will suggest rest, then a slow increase in activities. This is to ensure you don’t get symptoms back.

Then, activities like work or school may be shorter or easier at first. You should avoid things that could hurt your head again.7 Your doctor might also start you on rehabilitation therapies if needed. These therapies could be for vision, balance, or thinking skills.

Rehabilitation Therapies

Therapies for vision, balance, and thinking are key for your concussion recovery. They help solve any lasting problems. Plus, they guide you back to regular life step by step.

See also  How Long After a Concussion Can You Drink Caffeine?

Stick to your doctor’s advice for post-concussion care. This helps you heal completely and faster. Also, it lowers the chances of future issues after your recovery.

Concussion Prevention

To avoid concussions, make sure you wear the right protective gear for your activity. Helmets must be approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).2 Also, learn and use safe techniques in contact sports. This means keeping your head up, hitting with your shoulders, and not leading with your head.2 These steps lower your risk of concussion and avoid emergency visits.2

Protective Gear

Wearing the correct protective gear for concussion safety, such as ASTM-approved helmets, is critical. These helmets reduce the force of impacts and lower concussion risk.2

Safe Techniques

Using safe techniques in contact sports is key for avoiding concussions. Always keep your head up, tackle with your shoulders, and don’t use your head first.2 These methods are vital for protecting you while playing.

When to See a Specialist

Your regular doctor or the emergency room team might send you to a concussion specialist. They might do this if your symptoms are very bad, last more than a few weeks, or if you’ve had many concussions before. These specialists can offer advanced tests, specific therapies, and a plan just for you. They help you get back to your daily life safely.

If you’ve been told to see a concussion specialist, act fast. This step is key in your healing process. These specialists will find out what’s really happening with you. Then, they’ll create a plan made just for you to get better safely.

Seeing a specialist is crucial if your symptoms don’t go away or even get worse. They look into your symptoms more closely and offer treatments that target the real issue. If you’ve had many concussions, they can also teach you how to avoid getting hurt again and lower any lasting damage.

With a concussion specialist, your recovery is in good hands. They guide you back to your daily life safely and as soon as possible. With their help, you make a strong return.

Concussion Recovery Timeline

The concussion recovery timeline changes based on how bad the injury is. Yet, most folks get better within 1-2 weeks.8 After a concussion, resting both your body and mind is key.9 Later, as you feel better, slowly go back to your usual routine. Follow what your doctor says.7

Some might need a few months to heal, especially after multiple concussions.9 Working with your doctor, you’ll make a plan for getting better. You’ll know when it’s okay to play sports or do hard activities again.7

Long-Term Complications

Most people fully recover from a concussion. However, some face long-term troubles. Between 80,000-90,000 folks a year see lasting effects from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). This can lead to disabilities.10 Post-concussion syndrome is one such problem. It means symptoms like headaches or dizziness last for weeks or months.

Post-Concussion Syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome shows up with ongoing headaches and dizziness. It also brings trouble with thinking and mental health issues like depression.1 Other symptoms are memory problems, feeling sick, or sudden changes in mood.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is another risk. It’s a serious brain disease some get after repeated head injuries.10 Signs include changes in behavior and memory loss. Traumatic brain injuries have become more common since 2006, according to the CDC. This raises concerns about concussions’ long-term effects.

Quick professional help and a solid recovery plan are key. It’s important to rest both body and mind, then slowly get back to normal activities. Also, following rehab guidance is vital to lower the risk of lasting concussion impacts.

Preparing for Your ER Visit

If you think you have a concussion and need to go to the ER, it pays to prep. First off, check for any instructions before your visit. This might include not doing things that could make your condition worse.11

When you get to the ER, they’ll want to know how you got hurt. They also need to hear about the symptoms you feel.11

What to Expect

At the ER, the doctors and nurses will do some tests. They might check your brain, run some thinking tests, and take pictures.12

For serious cases like bad headaches, seizures, or lots of throwing up, they might use tools like CT scans and MRIs.12 CT scans are usually done right away for adult head injuries. But for kids, they’re more careful because of the radiation risk.12

Questions to Ask

It’s smart to ask the ER team if they think you have a concussion and what they suggest doing.12 Other good questions are about how long it’ll take to get better and when you can go back to your regular routine.12

See also  Return to Normal Activity After Concussion: Guidelines

Make sure to ask about next steps, risks, and when you can play sports again. They should also talk about if you can drive and if you might need to see a specialist.12

The ER crew’s top priority is to check you out fast and give you the care you need.11


If you think you have a concussion, it’s vital to head to the ER fast. Especially if you see any signs of a severe injury or if your symptoms get worse.13In 2014, the CDC reported about 2.87 million brain injury cases in the U.S. needing ER visits or hospital stays.13At the ER, they will do tests and scans to check how bad the concussion is.

The doctors will work on your symptoms right away and keep an eye on you for any problems.14But, half of all concussions can be missed in the ER. So, it’s the best spot for any serious head injuries that need quick care. Even though the ER might cost more, their treatment can help you recover better and avoid future problems.

14Most people get better from a concussion in about 4 weeks, as the latest advice says. Still, getting the right care quickly is key.8Poor treatment could make recovery take much longer. So, the sooner you seek help, the better your chances are for a quick and full recovery. This also lowers the risk of lasting concussion effects.


What will the ER do for a concussion?

When you go to the emergency room (ER) for a concussion, doctors will check how badly you’re hurt. They do this by looking at how you think, your reflexes, and by doing brain scans. The main goal is to help you feel better and to watch for any problems.

What is a concussion and what causes it?

A concussion is a brain injury from a hit or sudden move. The brain shakes inside the skull and can get hurt. Falls, strong hits to the body, and head blows are common causes.

What are the common symptoms of a concussion?

Concussion signs are often not obvious. They include problems focusing, feeling dizzy, or confused. Headaches, not remembering well, feeling sick, and changing how you act are also signs.

When should I go to the ER for a suspected concussion?

If you see severe head injury signs, like trouble walking or a bad headache, get to the ER. Go there also if your symptoms get worse within a day.

How do doctors diagnose a concussion in the ER?

Doctors check your brain’s functions and how well you think. They might do brain scans if things seem serious. This helps them see if your brain is hurt.

What is the treatment for a concussion in the ER?

Mainly, the ER advises rest to help you heal. They might give you mild painkillers for headaches. They’ll keep an eye on you for any changes or new problems.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of going to the ER for a concussion?

Going to the ER means high-tech tests and varied medicines but can be costly. ER doctors are great in emergencies but not always concussion specialists.

When should I go to urgent care instead of the ER for a concussion?

For light concussions without major symptoms, urgent care is good. They check you the same but it’s usually cheaper. Urgent care will tell you if you need more ER help.

What should I expect when I arrive at the ER for a concussion?

The hospital team will learn about your injury. They use a scale to see how bad things are. Severe cases may need scans right away.

What is the recovery process after a concussion?

After ER care, you need time to heal, then slowly go back to normal. Sometimes, therapy helps if you still feel bad.

How can I prevent concussions?

Wear proper protection, like approved helmets, for sports. Always follow the safe rules of play.

When should I see a concussion specialist?

If your symptoms last weeks, a specialist like a neurologist might help. They are also good for multiple concussion cases.

What is the typical recovery timeline for a concussion?

Most people feel better in 1 to 2 weeks. But some might need months, especially if they’ve had more than one concussion.

What are the long-term complications of a concussion?

Problems lasting for months and brain disease from many hits are possible. It’s key to look out for long and short-term symptoms.

How can I prepare for my ER visit for a concussion?

Know what to do before going and explain how the injury happened. Ask the ER team about what to do next and when you’ll be back to normal.

Source Links

  1. https://www.dignityhealth.org/arizona/services/emergency-services/when-to-go-to-er/concussion
  2. https://www.advanceer.com/resources/blog/2022/september/do-you-think-you-have-a-concussion-you-should-go/
  3. https://caprockhealthsystem.com/how-to-monitor-a-concussion-and-when-to-seek-emergency-care/
  4. https://neuraleffects.com/blog/emergency-room-or-urgent-care-for-concussion/
  5. https://velocityuc.com/what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-a-concussion/
  6. https://www.carenow.com/blog/entry/what-to-do-if-you-might-have-a-concussion
  7. https://www.uofmhealth.org/conditions-treatments/brain-neurological-conditions/concussion-treatment-and-recovery
  8. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15038-concussion
  9. https://www.beaumont.org/conditions/what-to-expect
  10. https://www.cognitivefxusa.com/blog/traumatic-brain-injury-long-term-effects-and-treatment
  11. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/article/a-suspected-concussion-requires-medical-care
  12. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355600
  13. https://www.aans.org/patients/neurosurgical-conditions-and-treatments/concussion
  14. https://completeconcussions.com/concussion-tips-information/when-should-i-go-to-the-emergency-department-for-concussion/