Recognizing Concussions in Children

A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury that results when there is a sizable hit that occurs to one’s head, face, neck or even body. It is important to recognize the concussion risks that come with organized youth sports — including football, soccer, hockey, basketball, and lacrosse.

However, any type of head injury, including those from motor vehicle crashes or falls, can be a source of concussions. Although it is a potential symptom, most concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness.

A continued problem is the notion of "toughing it out" which can lead to underreporting and delays in diagnosis. To recognize symptoms, encourage your child to speak up! Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion
  • Changes in speech or walking
  • Changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, and mood

Keep in mind, the symptoms can be delayed, so remaining vigilant is key. While on the sidelines, look for confusion or signs of disorientation. Someone who appears to be less coordinated or unsteady needs immediate attention.

If a child gets a head injury at a sporting event, it is imperative that a child be pulled from the game once a concussion is suspected. Repetitive sequential head traumas have led to young athletes developing significant neurologic injury.  

Any child who has had a head injury and is complaining of symptoms noted above should be evaluated promptly by a medical professional.

After a concussion, while normal daily activities can resume, it is recommended that all sports or physically demanding related activity be restricted for at least 24 hours. Evidence suggests an earlier and gradual step-wise return to physical activity is superior to prolonged rest periods and activity restrictions.

As long as symptoms are not returning, your child can advance in their level of activity every 24-48 hours with a goal to return to full activities by 7-10 days. Any new or recurrent symptoms during their progression would necessitate re-starting the cycle.

Similarly, while no specific classroom restrictions need to be in place beyond 24 hours, decreased concentration, confusion and headache may cause difficulty with school work.

The CDC’s campaign called HEADS UP aims to increase awareness for athletes, parents, and coaches to better address safety in sports. The HEADS UP initiative provides flyers, factsheets and even has interactive apps for kids to learn more about concussions. To learn more visit: https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/index.html.

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