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Warning Signs: What Parents Need to Know About Concussions

Warning Signs:What Parents Need to Know About Concussions

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Sponsored Content

With the arrival of fall and a new school year, more kids are engaging in sports and other activities. With that comes an increase in injuries, including concussions.

Using data from hospitals, doctor visits and athletic trainers, researchers at the University of Washington estimate that as many as 1.9 million concussions occur every year among kids 18 and younger due to sports and recreation injuries.

The return of fall sports brings an increased risk in concussions for high school athletes. Experts warn parents to be aware of symptoms and to know that concussions can occur in any activity, not just contact sports like football.

Nearly 7% of all children have had symptoms of a concussion or brain injury in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The percentage of children who have had symptoms of a concussion or brain injury increased with age, from 2% in children aged 5 years and under to 12.2% in children aged 12–17.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of sports-related concussions is highest in high school athletes.

And it’s not just football players — or boys — who are at increased risk for concussion. Girls actually suffer a higher percentage of concussions, according to a report by Safe Kids Worldwide that analyzed sports-related emergency room injury data for children ages 6 to 19 in basketball, cheerleading, football, soccer and 11 other sports.

“Concussions are caused by a bump, blow, or shaking to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth,” explains Shannon Luckovich-Alsup, Speech Language Pathologist at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around in the skull, stretching and damaging brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain. The nerves fire all at once which tires them out, and they take time to recover.”

Luckovich-Alsup says often a concussion can occur without there being any visible signs of injury to the head, such as bruising or cuts. She also points out that a person does not necessarily pass out after a concussion, although they might briefly.

Regardless of the severity of visible symptoms, a concussion is something that parents, coaches, and kids need to take seriously.

“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury – known as a TBI,” Luckovich-Alsup says. “In fact, it is the most common type of TBI.”

The CDC says 10% of all athletes who participate in contact sports will sustain at least one concussion every year they compete. Experts estimate that football injuries associated with the brain occur at a rate of one in every 5.5 games.

However, not all concussions occur in contact spots.

“A concussion can happen during contact sports or non-contact activities,” Luckovich-Alsup says. “Football and soccer rank among the highest rate of concussions for children’s’ sports, but concussions can also happen on the playground, at recess, or in non-contact sports like skiing, for example.”

Symptoms of a concussion can be physical (headache, nausea/vomiting, tinnitus (ringing in ears), blurred vision, sensitivity to light, fatigue, difficulty sleeping); behavioral (irritability, depression/anxiety, impulsivity, lack of initiation, impaired awareness); and cognitive (attention, word finding, memory problems, difficulty filtering noise, trouble focusing).

“A concussion may have many impacts on a child,” Luckovich-Alsup explains. “They may have a need for modifications and/or more support in the classroom while they are experiencing symptoms. They may need to take a break from their sports and other physical activities. Headaches, vision changes, etc. may affect their ability to participate in social activities for a while.”

For some children, symptoms may last for months or longer and can lead to short- and long-term problems affecting how they think, act, learn and feel. However, research indicates most children and teens who have a concussion feel better within a couple of weeks.

“After a concussion, children should rest from both physical and mental (cognitive) activities for a day or two,” she explains. “A gradual return to learning and physical activity is key.”

Following a concussion, a child may be asked to follow “return to learn” and “return to play” protocols. Some children who return to school after a concussion may benefit from classroom adjustments, including a lighter course load or a shortened school day. If activities such as reading or jogging aggravate symptoms, such as headache, children should take a break. Then, they should resume the activity for shorter periods, gradually working up to pre-concussion levels as symptoms improve.

Luckovich-Alsup encourages parents not to rush a child’s recovery following a concussion.

“Head injuries take time to heal,” she says. “Take them seriously and seek help sooner rather than later. Make sure to talk to your kids about the signs/symptoms of concussions and advocate for appropriate head gear (helmets) when appropriate.”

If your child experiences a concussion, they should seek help from their sports coach, school nurse, primary care doctor, or ER. If symptoms warrant additional help, talk to your doctor about a possible referral to a Physical Therapist or Speech Language Pathologist.


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