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What to do if your child experiences a concussion or blow to the head

Edward Dabrowski, MD Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation on Staff Children’s Hospital of Michigan (part of the Detroit Medical Center)

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is caused by a sudden blow to the head or body. It can lead to a temporary loss of normal brain function. When a person gets a head injury, the brain can move around inside, which can lead to bruising of the brain, and injury of the blood vessels and nerves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control almost half a million (473,947) emergency department visits for TBI are made annually by children aged 0 to 14 years. Several studies also suggest that the number of visits to the emergency rooms for concussions has significantly increased for kids with sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI), such as concussions.


Do

Do be aware of activities that can lead to concussions

Minor falls can lead to concussions in kids but overall, according to the CDC, recent studies suggest the activities associated with the greatest estimated number of TBI-related emergency department (ED) visits are bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball, and soccer. Activities for which TBI accounted for >10% of the injury emergency room visits for that activity included horseback riding (15.3%), ice skating (11.4%), golfing (11.0%), all-terrain vehicle riding (10.6%), and tobogganing/sledding (10.2%).

Do monitor your child after a head injury

There are many different symptoms associated with a concussion. One of the great dangers, is an athlete may be suffering from a concussion for hours or days without obvious clues that an injury has occurred.

Do know signs and symptoms of a concussion

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), warning signs of a concussion include.

  • Appearing dazed, confused or stunned
  • Confusion about assignment or position
  • Being unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moving clumsily
  • Answering questions slowly
  • Losing consciousness (even briefly)
  • Mood behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to or after hit or fall
  • Headache or "pressure" in head
  • Nausea, vomiting or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Does not "feel right" or is "feeling down"
     

Do be aware of other subtle symptoms of a concussion in younger children

Since a younger child may not be able to communicate as clearly about what they are feeling, it can be more challenging to tell if he/she has a concussion. Other signs to look for in a small child can include:

  • Changes in the way they nurse, eat, or sleep.
  • Increase in temper tantrums or crying
  • Being upset easily
  • Having balance problems
  • Being inattentive or having lack of interest
     


Don't

Do not let your child continue to play in the sport after a blow to the head

our child should stop playing his/her sport immediately. He/she should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If your child is knocked out or unconscious, call an ambulance for immediate medical assistance. Do not move your child until the paramedics arrive.

Do not rush your child to return to a sport or activity

If your child has any of the signs or symptoms of a concussion listed above after a blow to the head or body, he/she should not go back to play the day of the injury. A health care professional, experienced in evaluating a concussion, needs to let you know when it is safe to return to play. A player returning too early could suffer from "second impact syndrome," which can be fatal. A second blow to the head, even a minor one, can cause a loss of control of blood flow to the brain.

Do not leave your child alone

A child should not be left alone and should be checked throughout the night after a head injury. If you have any concerns about the child’s breathing or sleeping wake him/her up. If there are concerns your child is getting worse seek immediate medical care.

Do not add unnecessary stimulation during the recovery period

Parents may need to consult with their physician about easing back into school activities since a child with a concussion can find that issues such as too much noise, lighting, classwork activity and taking tests can exacerbate their symptoms.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

It's important to take proper steps if you suspect a concussion because it can be serious. Treatment of a concussion involves resting the brain until no more symptoms are present. Rest helps the brain heal. Brain rest means reducing activities which require concentration such as school work, playing video/computer games, reading, or texting.

Although recovery times may be longer in children, adolescents, and older adults, most people with concussions recover just fine with appropriate treatment.


More expert advice about Injuries

Photo Credits: joey shows his injury by Flickr: Lindsay Shaver; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Edward Dabrowski, MDChief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation on Staff