Medical professionals use something called the AVPU code to determine whether a patient has suffered a concussion. This involves checking for both physical and cognitive symptoms. The process is follows:
A is for alert. Hold up a finger and move it from left to right in front of the patient’s face. Does the patient follow your finger with their eyes? Does she seem aware of things going on around her?
V is for voice. Does the victim hear and answer questions? Do you need to yell to get a response? Does she seem to understand what you are saying? Concussion patients may respond to spoken commands without being fully alert.
P is for pain. Does the victim respond to pain or discomfort? Pinch the patient’s skin; does she open her eyes or respond physically? Don’t pinch hard enough to cause damage.
U is for unresponsive. Does the victim fail to respond to voice, touch, or visual stimuli?
First Aid for Concussions
In some cases, patients and observers aren’t aware that a concussion has happened until they are examined by a doctor. However, if you have witnessed or experienced head trauma, it is a good idea to assume a concussion has occurred.
Immobilize the head while you wait for medical help. It is always a good idea to assume a spinal injury until proven otherwise when head trauma has occurred; if the person’s spine has been injured, even the lightest jostling could render her dead or injured. Immobilize the person’s head by holding it with both hands in the position you found her in, and do not move her unless it is absolutely necessary for her safety.
Apply ice to reduce the swelling. Press an ice pack to the area of injury for approximately 20-30 minutes every two to four hours. Wrap the ice in plastic or cloth; do not press it directly onto the skin. If you don’t have ice, use something else cold such as a package of frozen vegetables. Don’t press hard, as this could push fragments of bone into the brain.
Take over-the-counter pain meds. Headaches are a very common result of concussions. Tylenol is fine; avoid Aspirin or Ibuprofen, as these can increase bleeding.
Keep tabs on the patient’s cognitive function. Concussion victims can seem fine initially, only to have their symptoms suddenly worsen minutes or hours after an injury. When treating a concussion victim or keeping her company while you wait for medical help, keep the person awake and aware by continually asking simple questions. This helps you monitor the person’s condition and lets you know if their condition changes. The questions should be easy ones, such as:
- What is your name?
- Where are you?
- How are you feeling?
- How old are you?
- How many fingers am I holding up? (Hold up fingers)
- Repeat after me…(ask her to repeat a series of words or a simple phrase)
This advice assumes that the victim is conscious. If the victim is not conscious, the same advice applies about assuming a spinal injury. Here are some steps to take if the victim is unconscious:
- First, check the scene to make sure it is safe.
- If the person is not conscious, check their airway, breathing, and circulation (ABC). Do not tilt their chin upward.
- If the person is not breathing, perform CPR while ensuring their head stays immobile.
- Do not move the person unless it is absolutely necessary for their safety. Stabilize or have someone else stabilize the person’s head by holding it immobile in the position it was found in until medical help arrives.