How to Tell if You or a Loved One Have a Concussion After a Car Accident

Person on a couch recovering from concussion

In a car accident, a head injury can be particularly worrisome. They are often not as easy to detect as a broken bone or a serious cut. A head injury like a concussion after a car accident may be a mild one, but it may take hours or days to show itself, and weeks or months to heal. It is important to know how to tell if a victim has had any type of injury in a crash, and that includes the often harder-to-detect brain injury of a concussion.

Following an accident, it is essential to get immediate medical attention. If a crash is someone else’s fault, they should pay for medical expenses and potentially lost wages. An experienced attorney can help a victim get fair compensation for treatment, lost wages, and get back to the quality of life they deserve.

So, What Exactly is a Concussion?

It is important to understand more clearly what a concussion is since its signs and symptoms are not as obvious as with other physical injuries. A concussion is an injury to the brain that results from a traumatic event, such as a car accident.

A concussion can happen in a car accident when there is any bump, blow, or jolt to the head. It can also happen if the body is hit in such a way that causes one’s head and brain to be jarred rapidly back and forth. This sudden back-and-forth motion can cause the brain to bounce around inside the skull, possibly damaging brain cells while also creating chemical imbalances in the brain.

In a car accident, this kind of traumatic brain injury can result from the head hitting the steering wheel, dashboard, side window, or windshield. It could also result from one’s head being shaken back and forth, or the body being tossed around during the accident’s impact.

Also, a concussion should not be confused with whiplash, another common injury resulting from a car accident. While whiplash can result from the same type of head motion, whiplash affects the neck and shoulder muscles rather than the brain itself.

While the signs and symptoms of a concussion may show up soon after a car accident, the seriousness of this type of injury might not be obvious. And additional symptoms of a concussion may not show themselves for hours or days following the crash. It is important to keep watching for signs of a concussion after a car accident, both right away and in the days that follow.

What are the Symptoms of a Concussion After a Car Accident?

Man experiencing confusion after a car accident

One indication of a concussion after a car accident can be loss of consciousness. This may occur at once with a concussion, but not always. More often, someone with a concussion after a car accident will note that they “just don’t feel right.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has a list of common signs and symptoms that someone might have a concussion:

Signs Observed in a Loved One:

  • Can’t recall events prior to or after the incident
  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes

Symptoms a Victim May Experience:

  • Headache or “pressure” in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness, or double or blurry vision
  • Bothered by light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Confusion, concentration, or memory problems
  • Just not “feeling right,” or “feeling down”

Typically, concussion symptoms will subside within a couple of weeks to a month after a car accident. But if symptoms linger for longer than a month, then you or a loved one may be suffering from PCS, or post-concussive syndrome.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons, or AANS, has identified the complications that can arise with a concussion after a car accident, when symptoms continue to persist, resulting in post-concussive syndrome.

PCS symptoms may include persistent memory and concentration problems, mood swings, personality changes, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, and excessive drowsiness. This syndrome can last for weeks, months, or even years.

Getting Medical Attention is Crucial

In a car accident’s aftermath, the people involved sometimes turn down medical help offered by first responders on the scene. Accident victims may feel as though they are fine, with no injuries. Refusing medical attention after a car accident is most often a mistake, as a concussion-type injury is often not immediately obvious.

It is best to get checked out by first responders or see a doctor as soon as possible. First it is important for the victim’s health. In addition, records of doctor visits, starting with any initial emergency care received, will also be necessary if a victim needs to prove later in a personal injury claim or court case that they suffered a concussion after the car accident.

No one test or examination will tell if a person has a concussion or not. It often takes a combination of several tests to diagnose a concussion.

Instead, a doctor reviews the symptoms being shared by the injured, as well as by anyone close to the injured, to form a diagnosis. The doctor will use a penlight to check a victim’s eyes. A person with a concussion after a car accident may have the pupils of their eyes appearing abnormally large when dilated, or the pupils may dilate unevenly, with one pupil larger than the other. A victim may also have difficulty following the doctor’s finger with their eyes as the doctor moves his finger around to test this.

Neurocognitive tests might  be needed to further help the doctor decide if there are any concerns for the victim’s ability to concentrate, remember, or problem-solve. The doctor may need to order an MRI or CT scan to see if there is any bruising or bleeding on the brain, which could indicate a more serious traumatic brain injury or even the potential for a stroke.

How to Tell if an Injury is Serious

Man with headache after car accident

Another important reason why a victim should see a doctor as soon as possible following a car accident is because a head injury could in fact be much worse than a concussion. It could be a more serious traumatic brain injury instead.

Signs of something more severe include:

  • Headache is worse or does not go away
  • Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Significant nausea or repeated vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to wake up
  • Symptoms have worsened at any time
  • Symptoms have not gone away after 10-14 days
  • History of multiple concussions

It is imperative to seek immediate medical attention if any of these warning signs occur.

Treating and Healing a Concussion After a Car Accident

A doctor’s most common prescription for a concussion is rest. Victims should also avoid loud noises, bright lights, and physical activity as much as possible, as well as reading and watching TV or any type of screen time. Driving is not recommended and may be even forbidden for a time, as well as anything that requires much head and neck movement. A victim will most likely not be able to go to work during this healing time.

Many people think that someone suffering from a concussion should not be allowed to fall asleep. In reality, keeping a victim awake may not be necessary. If the person, while awake, can have a conversation and isn’t having trouble moving, it is fine to let them sleep. A concussion is cured by resting the brain, so sleeping may actually be the best thing for a victim to do.

Most people will recover quickly and completely following a concussion, but some people can have symptoms that last for several weeks before gradually getting better.

And even if a concussion heals quickly, a victim may continue to have expensive follow-up doctor visits to pay for and also have lost wages from the days of work they may have missed. Financially healing from any personal injury, including a car accident, can be just as lengthy and difficult to navigate.

Experienced personal injury lawyers can help a victim financially heal from their accident by:

  • Consulting on the signs of injury to look out for
  • Proving the delayed-onset injuries being experienced were caused during the accident
  • Calculating what the concussion injury will cost now, and in the future
  • Determining the total lost wages and loss future earnings will be because of the accident and resulting injury
  • Placing a financial value on the victim’s changed quality of life overall

The purpose of a victim receiving compensation for loss and damages after any personal injury accident is to “make whole.” This means the victim is ideally repaid for everything they have lost. This not only means the cuts, bruises, and broken bones that show up immediately, but also those injuries that may not show up until later, such as a concussion, after a car accident.



Car Accidents


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