Concussion Safety for Children
Concussions are an important topic that every parent should be aware of. You may be thinking that concussions are unlikely to happen unless your child is playing a sport like football, hockey, or soccer, but this is simply not true. Children are amazing at finding ways to knock their head against something, whether it be from riding a bicycle or simply falling on the playground.
You should be equipped with the knowledge to be able to identify the symptoms of a concussion and how to properly treat it at home. If your child ever suffers a concussion, it’s always important to see a doctor immediately for a proper evaluation.
A concussion is classified as a mild traumatic brain injury (also called mild TBI). The term “brain injury” should not be taken lightly either, concussions have the ability to leave permanent damage if the injury is not properly cared for. Concussions occur when a sudden blow to the head causes the head to jerk back and forth with a lot of force. This injury can hurt the brain by the blow itself or by causing the brain to bang against the side of the skull. A concussion can cause the chemicals to change in the brain or, in severe cases, actually damage the brain cells.
Concussions can happen from all sorts of head injuries. It’s true that most concussions for kids and teens occur while playing sports, especially with football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. But even if your child does not play sports, it does not mean you shouldn’t be cautious about your child suffering a head injury.
Plenty of children have gotten concussions from falling off their bicycle or simply playing too roughly on the playground. Sometimes children can get a concussion if they get into a fight at school. You could probably sit and think about all the different ways your child manages to hit their head against something. It’s more common than you think.
To get a better idea of how serious concussions are, we’ve given you a few statistics to look at. Hopefully, by reading these you’ll understand that concussions are no joke and that they can have severe, permanent impacts on children’s lives.
- A traumatic brain injury occurs every 15 seconds
- 10% of all contact sport athletes sustain concussions yearly.
- Brain injuries cause more deaths than any other sports injury. In football, brain injuries account for 65% to 95% of all fatalities.
- 20% of all high school football players sustain brain injuries.
- 5% of soccer players sustain brain injuries as a result of their sport.
- Brain injuries are the number one cause of death in children and young adults.
- Effects of concussion are cumulative in athletes who return to play prior to complete recovery.
The primary symptoms of a concussion include:
- blurred or double vision
- balance problems
- trouble walking
- being slow to answer questions
- slurred speech
- nausea or vomiting
- not remembering what happened
- not feeling well
Someone with a concussion may lose consciousness for a brief period, but this doesn’t happen to everyone. Concussion symptoms can also appear over time, usually up to a few days after an injury. Teenagers with concussions can present other symptoms that may not immediately seem related to the injury, such as:
- have trouble focusing
- have learning or memory problems
- have a headache that gets worse
- have sleep problems
- have behavioral issues such as feeling sad, irritable, or anxious
There are warning signs to look out for that can indicate a concussion is severe and needs immediate medical treatment. If your child exhibits these symptoms, call your doctor ASAP or go to the emergency room:
- has a severe headache or one that gets worse
- has a seizure
- passes out
- continues vomiting over time
- exhibits other worrying symptoms
Once your child is brought to the doctor, they will ask a few questions about the injury. They’ll want to know how the injury happened, when it happened, and what symptoms the child is currently experiencing. Afterward, the doctor can use certain tests to gauge the severity of a concussion, such as a memory test and a physical exam to test balance, coordination, and reflexes.
Unfortunately, concussions do not show up on typical CT scans or MRIs, so don’t expect to get one if you think your child suffered from a minor concussion. In severe cases, a scan might be used to identify other problems if the child was unconscious, vomiting, or injured in a serious accident.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will give you a detailed plan on how to properly care for your child while they are recovering at home. Athletes should NOT return to sports until their concussion has been completely healed. Athletes who return to sports before their injury is healed are likely to accumulate more brain damage in the future.
It’s important to remember that every child heals at their own pace, so there is no clear-cut recovery time. In general, it’s best to slowly ease your child back into regular activity over the course of a month. Most guidelines for minor concussions include:
- Resting for 1-2 days after injury
- Returning to light activity within a few days after injury
- Returning to moderate activity after 1 week after injury
- Returning to regular activity 1 month after injury
Your doctor’s plan of action will include in-depth details about what your child should be doing every week. While your child is recovering from a concussion, here are some tips to remember:
- Avoid using caffeine
- Keep a regular sleep cycle
- Cut down on screen time (video games, texting, TV, etc)
- Don’t let your teen drive until your doctor approves it
- Take naps during the day if needed
Athletes should not return to playing sports until their injury has fully healed and their doctor has approved them to do so. A doctor will only approve of returning to sports if:
- They have had a physical exam
- Have returned to school
- Have no present symptoms
- They do not require any medication
- Their cognitive test results have returned to baseline levels
You should never try to rush going back into sports. Playing sports prior to full recovery puts a child at risk of getting permanent brain damage from a second blow to the head. In a worst-case scenario, a child can die from a second concussion if they have not recovered from their first one. You can look up your state’s rules about when children and teens can play sports again after receiving a concussion.
Statistics tell us that people who have suffered from one concussion are much more likely to get another one in the future. This makes it imperative for parents to do their best in trying to prevent another concussion from happening. Here are some tips to help prevent a concussion:
- Always wear seatbelts in the car
- Wear a helmet that fits when biking, skating, skiing, horseback riding, or playing contact sports. A helmet should be secure and not move around when a child shakes their head.
- Prevent falls on stairs by putting up handrails.
- Install safety gates on the stairs.
- Put grab bars in the bathroom, with nonslip mats in the tub and on floors.
- Tell your child to never ignore symptoms of a concussion or feel like they must “suck it up” or “tough it out”.
- Make sure your child’s sports team includes rules to reduce the risk of concussions.
Sources and Additional Studies:
Howell, D. R., et al. (2019). Concussion symptom profiles among child, adolescent, and young adult athletes. Clinical journal of sport medicine, 29(5), 391-397.
Gagnon, I. (2019). Determining outcome in children and adolescents after concussion: viewing things more holistically. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, (0), 1-24.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Incidence of Concussion Among Youth Football Players. AAP Grand Rounds, 42(1), 3-3.
Ferraro, F. R., Cuccolo, K., & Wise, R. A. (2019). Should you let your child play football? What about soccer or hockey?. Applied Neuropsychology: Child, 1-6.
Beauchamp, M. H., et al. (2019). Predicting Wellness After Pediatric Concussion. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 25(4), 375-389.