There has been a significant amount of recent media attention on head injuries and concussions. A few of the alarming headlines include: soccer heading causes concussions, football head injuries cause brain damage as early as 18 years old, a young athlete dies from second impact syndrome, and repetitive head injury leads to early manifestation of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. These are scary, but real threats to our children’s neurological well being. What do you need to know to prevent head injury and concussions in your children?
1. What is a concussion? A concussion is a head injury caused by trauma. You do not have to lose consciousness or pass out in order to have a concussion! Sometimes children who have suffered a concussions show symptoms right away but sometimes the symptoms develop over a few days.
Some symptoms of a concussion are:
•Confusion, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering
•Headache, dizziness, blurred vision, seizures, nausea/vomiting, balance problems, change in energy level
•Changes in sleep pattern/sleepiness
•Emotional changes including sadness, anger, nervousness
•Younger children may exhibit any of the symptoms above and/or crying more than usual, change in eating habits, loss of new skills, apathy and difficulty walking.
IF YOUR CHILD SUFFERS A HEAD INJURY YOU SHOULD CALL YOUR PEDIATRICIAN AND DISCUSS ANY SYMPTOMS. GO DIRECTLY TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM IF YOUR CHILD:
•cannot wake up/is lethargic/has a drastic change in behavior
•has a seizure
•slurs his speech
•has one pupil larger than the other
2. How long does my child need to stay out of sports after sustaining a concussion? If your child has a concussion, he/she needs to be followed by a physician to determine when they can return to play. If your child returns to play too soon, they are at risk for second impact syndrome which is a rare but potentially fatal sequelae. Re-injury can also significantly extend recovery time. Some larger hospitals have concussion clinics that will assess your child’s readiness to return to play. Each child’s return to play must be individualized and include concussion rehabilitation that proceeds in a step wise fashion, assessing the child’s symptoms with each increase in activity. Do not rush your child! Many children/adolescents will lie about symptoms so that they can return to a sport that they love. Be cautious and keep your physician involved!
3. Can any age child suffer a concussion? Yes, a concussion can occur at any age. Younger children may show different signs of a concussion than older children (see #1).
4. What is a stinger? A stinger (or burner) occurs when traumatic contact causes the head to go in one direction and the shoulder to go in the other resulting in a stretching of the brachial plexus nerves. This compresses and/or irritates the nerves responsible for arm movement and strength. The resulting weakness, numbness and irritation may last just a few seconds or up to a few weeks. A stinger is treated with rest, ice, ibuprofen, physical therapy and removal from play.
5. How can I prevent concussions for my family? There are certain sports in which concussions occur more frequently. Football is one of them. Seattlemamadoc.com wrote a great piece on the dangers of football and I have to agree, my boys will not play football. Other considerations are careful child-proofing to prevent falls, wearing helmets (but remember concussions can still occur with a helmet), using a seat belt and proper child car seat.