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Can You Drive With a Concussion?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It occurs when an impact or jolt moves the head and brain back and forth quickly.

When this sudden movement occurs, it can affect the chemical balance in an individual's brain. It could also stretch or damage their brain cells.

From sports injuries to car accidents, there are many events and activities that can lead to a concussion. If you've recently suffered one, you might wonder how quickly you can get back behind the wheel.

Can you drive with a concussion? If so, what is the timeline and how can you make sure you're doing so safely? Today, we're taking a closer look and sharing the answers you need to know.

What Is a Concussion?

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), most concussions are considered to be mild TBIs, or mTBIs. This is because while they can alter your everyday life for a period of time, the majority are not life-threatening.

Following the initial impact, you may notice a visible sign on the individual's head, such as a cut or a bruise. However, this isn't always the case. As the AANS explains, some concussions do not result in any type of outward affliction at all.

In addition, not everyone who experiences one will pass out. Yet, that doesn't mean they should not be taken seriously. It's important to understand the signs and symptoms of a concussion so you know what to look for and can act quickly in the event of an emergency.

Top 10 Symptoms of a Concussion

Immediately following a concussion, individuals may report brief periods of forgetfulness, explaining that they can't remember what happened directly before or after the injury. This dazed or confused reaction is what gives rise to the term "seeing stars".

While this is a common reaction that can occur, the Mayo Clinic explains that it's not the only one. Some of the other signs and symptoms of a concussion include:

  1. Disorientation

  2. Headache

  3. Nausea

  4. Vomiting

  5. Ringing in the ears

  6. Blurred or distorted vision

  7. Sensitivity to bright lights

  8. Drowsiness

  9. Excessive fatigue

  10. Loss of balance

If any of these conditions occur after an individual experiences an impact to their head or body, experts recommend seeking immediate medical attention. This is especially the case if you experience any of the following symptoms, which could be a sign of a more severe injury:

  • A headache that will not go away

  • Weakness or numbness in your body

  • Convulsions or seizures

  • Repeated instances of vomiting

  • Slurred speech

  • Any type of otherwise unusual behavior

A medical professional will be able to assess your condition and determine the extent of your injury. This will also give them a starting point on which to base your recovery timeline.

Understanding the Recovery Timeline

After someone experiences a head injury, they might wonder how long it will be before they can begin to resume some semblance of normal, everyday life. This is especially the case if their injury was seemingly minor, and they aren't experiencing any noticeable symptoms.

Yet, just as the circumstances and conditions that lead to a concussion are unique, so too is the recovery timeline. There isn't a one-size-fits-all schedule that will apply to everyone.

Let's take a look at some of the factors to consider when recovering from a concussion.

Immediately Following Impact

For an individual to achieve optimal recovery, there are several steps that will need to occur as soon as possible after the concussion is sustained. As the CDC cites, these include:

  • Getting a medical exam

  • Receiving care from family members and caregivers

  • Increasing amounts of rest

  • Limiting physical and mental exertion

When all of these factors are in place, it can help patients with a mTBI recover more effectively and avoid setbacks.

Identifying Symptoms

Though the symptoms of a concussion may be apparent to the sufferer, they can be difficult to medically identify. This is because they can often be similar to those related to other conditions, such as heat exhaustion or migraines.

In addition, the onset of those symptoms also adds to the complexity. In many cases, the signs of a concussion might not show up right away. According to the Mayo Clinic, they can often take days or even weeks to manifest.

Long-Term Recovery

Due to these gray areas and irregularities, there is no definitive diagnosis or treatment for TBI. Instead, all treatments and after-care plans are determined by a physician on a per-patient basis.

For these reasons, the CDC has not issued definitive guidelines on how and when a concussion patient can safely resume daily activities around their home or community, including driving.

Instead, the agency leaves this decision to the discretion of the patient's physician, explaining that their doctor should exercise a great deal of caution before allowing patients to drive again.

Can You Drive With a Concussion?

Immediately following a concussion, a safe recovery is paramount. The CDC explains that all patients should increase their rest time and decrease their activity level to allow their brains and bodies to heal from the trauma.

During this time, your physician can monitor your recovery progress. They will be the authority that ultimately determines when you can drive again, taking special caution for patients who exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Slower-than-normal processing speeds

  • Slower-than-normal reaction times

Driving is a practice that requires quick thinking and decision-making. Both of these abilities could be impaired after a concussion.

According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, most concussion symptoms will resolve on their own after two weeks to one month. If they persist beyond this general timeframe, medical professionals may diagnose the patient with post-concussion syndrome.

Your physician will monitor you in the aftermath of your concussion. They will be the ones to determine when you can safely perform activities that require split-second reactions, such as:

  • Driving a car

  • Riding a bike

  • Operating heavy equipment

When your doctor does determine that it's safe for you to drive, make sure to get their instructions in writing. In this guide to managing a concussion, the CDC explains that your physician should provide you with a detailed, written plan that explains when it's safe to return to work, school, and daily activities, including driving.

Why Waiting Matters

You might "feel" physically normal relatively soon after your concussion occurs. However, research shows that mTBI patients could experience delayed reaction times even if weeks have passed since their injury occurred.

In a recent presentation given at the American Academy of Neurology's Sports Concussion Virtual Conference, researchers explained the results of a driving simulation experiment conducted to demonstrate these effects.

In all, 28 college students with valid driver's licenses participated in the study, which required them to complete two simulated driving scenarios in a lab. Half of the students had sustained concussions, while the other half had not.

When researchers compared the test results, they found that the formerly concussed patients took 0.24 seconds longer to respond when a stoplight changed from green to yellow, requiring them to choose whether they should brake or accelerate. This equaled around 15.6 extra feet of stopping distance.

In addition, they also took 0.6 seconds longer to react when a child ran into the street, adding 3.3 feet to their stopping distance. In this scenario, they were required to choose whether to swerve or brake to avoid a collision.

Based on these results, the researchers found that concussed patients have slower reaction times after their injuries, even after their symptoms have appeared to diminish. They also explained that certain, more complicated driving skills, including the ones that require split-second reactions, may take the longest to come back after someone has sustained a concussion.

Take Hold of Your Recovery

After sustaining a TBI, the symptoms you may begin to experience can be overwhelming. In addition to the physical pain you feel, you may also feel frustrated when you can't quickly resume the normal activities you're accustomed to, including driving your car.

Sallie aims to ease this feeling by being an incredibly easy-to-use and free symptom-tracking dashboard. Using the dashboard at the beginning of one's recovery can help one to identify symptoms and triggers. Our robust data collection approach includes many speech symptoms for our users to track.

Identifying that you may be experiencing difficulties with reaction times, decision-making, and critical thinking could be the first step toward recognizing your possible need to introduce a physician-directed post-care plan and Sallie into your recovery approach.

Take hold of your brain injury recovery today! Register here for Sallie.

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