Concussions are a hot topic in the media lately, and you can’t watch the news or Sportscenter without hearing about an athlete who is affected by a head injury. Concussions not only affect pro athletes, but they are also common in kids who play contact sports. It is very important for parents to understand what a concussion is and how it is treated.
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a direct blow to the head. You don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. Even “getting your bell rung,” or what you think is a mild bump to the head can be serious. The most common signs and symptoms of a concussion are headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, behavior or personality changes, difficulty sleeping, and sensitivity to light and loud noises. There are many more symptoms of a concussion, and they can occur directly after the injury or days later. Bottom line – if you feel like your child is not acting like his or herself after a head injury, seek medical attention right away.
There is no simple test for a concussion. We use many tools to determine if a child has a concussion including neurocognitive tests, evaluation of signs and symptoms, and the physical exam. Getting a CT scan of the head is only indicated if we suspect a more serious diagnosis (such as a brain bleed or skull fracture) – a CT is normal with only a concussion.
Just like you rest any other part of the body when an injury occurs, a concussion requires “brain rest.” This means limited stimulation with school, TV, computers, video games, texting, etc. When symptoms improve, the medical team, family, and school work together to get your child back to these activities gradually. The tests used to diagnosis a concussion are also used to determine when it is safe for a child to return to play. In general, kids take longer to recover from a brain injury than do adults (usually 3-4 weeks). Kids are not all the same in how long it takes them to heal, but each should be symptom free before returning to play.
There are definite risks for letting your child return to sports without letting a brain injury resolve, which include prolonged concussion symptoms, possible death due to more severe brain injury, or long term cognitive effects. Also, if a child sustains one concussion they are at higher risk of sustaining another concussion in the future.
Again, as a parent, it is important to recognize that a concussion is a serious diagnosis and that if your child is not acting like his or herself after a bump or blow to the head that you seek medical attention. Included in the links section is a great website by the CDC for education on concussions for young athletes, coaches, and parents.
Rachel Brewer, MD