Heads Up! Kids and Concussions
By Andrea Brown Ross
With going back to school, participation in seasonal sports and outdoor activities is as anticipated as the cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, those sports and recreational activities carry the risk of injuries, including concussions. The heightened awareness regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, particularly in professional athletes, has given parents reason to pause when considering their child’s involvement in recreational and sports activities.
Family physician, Heidi D. Pratt, D.O., with the Yalobusha General Hospital and Rural Health Clinic, offers a few insights from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
“The CDC reports that as many as 3.8 million sport-related traumatic brain injuries occur annually. Any potential sign of concussion occurring soon after a rotational head trauma during a sports event should lead to prompt removal of the child or adolescent from competition and further assessment.”
A child or adolescent who sustain a concussion may show a variety of symptoms, including the following:
- Confusion and disorientation (i.e. walking in the wrong direction, not aware of the time, date, or place)
- Difficulties with memory (i.e. asking the same question over and over again)
- Inattentiveness (i.e. difficulty following instructions or focusing on a task)
- Slow or incoherent speech
- Gait abnormalities and imbalance (i.e. stumbling and falling)
- Emotional lability (i.e. inappropriate laughing or crying)
Typically, the most common sign of a concussion is a headache, but a behavioral change is also fairly common, according to Dr. Pratt. “Parents know their children better than anyone. If your typically mild-mannered child becomes easily agitated and argumentative, it’s best to have them examined by a medical professional,” she advises. Signs and symptoms may not manifest themselves until 24-48 hours after the injury. Additionally, the loss of consciousness at the time of injury does not always occur. Upon examination with a medical professional, determine whether a CT scan is necessary. According to Dr. Pratt, many parents immediately request a scan which is not always necessary for a diagnosis. The CT scan will expose children to a heavy dose of radiation. Parents should make an informed decision with their doctor on whether to have a scan.
Treatment of a concussion consists primarily of both physical and cognitive rest. While physical rest seems like an obvious course of treatment, the cognitive rest is also important. Activities such as reading and video games should be avoided according to Dr. Pratt. And while some students may be asymptomatic and can immediately return to school, for others the return to school and activities depends on the individual child and extent of the injury.
If you have reservations about your child’s participation in a sport or activity and the potential for concussions, share those concerns with the coach or athletic director. School districts and recreational leagues commonly have a protocol and procedure for this injury. For example, private schools who are a member of MAIS, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, provide an annual Concussion Information Form to the parents of their athletes.
Keep in mind, that all children are subject to an injury involving a concussion, not just those playing sports. Playground injuries, skateboarding, and horseback riding are among those activities.
As a mother of four boys who all play travel baseball, Dr. Pratt makes sure they incorporate safety measures on and off the field. “We play a lot of baseball, and we always make sure we use the approved safety equipment. But we also use helmets when we ride bikes, or engage in any other activity where a helmet is suggested. Our brains are our greatest commodity. Let’s protect them!”
Andrea Brown Ross is a freelance writer based in Como, Mississippi. She is looking forward to cheering her boys on this fall as they play organized sports.
Find lots of helpful resources about concussions and head injury prevention on www.cdc.gov/headsup/.