A concussion is essentially an injury to the tissues or blood vessels in the brain. It can occur when the soft tissues are pressed against the bone of the skull, resulting from an impact or blow to the head experienced during a fall or from sports injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion as “a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.” In addition, the CDC notes that “Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a ‘ding,’ ‘getting your bell rung,’ or what seems to be mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.”
Shining a Spotlight on Youth Concussions
Over the past few years, there have been a variety of efforts to educate the public about the dangers of childhood concussions. In particular, a great deal of focus has been placed on preventing “second impact syndrome” and managing the recovery of young athletes. For example:
In 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health joined together to create the BrainSTEPS program—a “Return to School Protocol” designed to help shorten the duration of concussion symptoms by eliminating all activity that might worsen the child’s condition. This includes ceasing all physical activities during recess, all sports, physical education classes, and similar activities.
In 2009, Washington State become the first state in the U.S. to enact a comprehensive youth sports concussion safety law (called the Zackery Lystedt Law). By early 2014, 47 other states and the District of Columbia had followed Washington’s lead.
In 2014, the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense funded the largest study of sports-related concussions in history to further our scientific understanding. Researchers from 21 schools will “eventually gather data from 35,000 athletes and military academy cadets across all sports at 30 campuses…”
Concussion Symptoms: What Parents Should Know
Mild concussions in childhood are fairly common and are not usually a cause for serious concern. However, childhood concussions should never be taken lightly and it’s important to know what symptoms to look for. These symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the individual themselves, and some are so mild that they may be difficult to notice. Sometimes they go away quickly, sometimes they return and sometimes their appearance is delayed for days or even weeks. Other times, they linger for years or even get worse.
- Loss of consciousness
- Mild to moderate headache
- Mood changes, such as unusual irritability or loss of interest in favorite activities
- Difficulty focusing or remembering things
- Drowsiness and reduced energy
Ask your child if they have any of the symptoms, and make sure to observe them closely for a few weeks. Your child is at increased risk if they have experienced previous head injury, are taking a blood thinning medicine, suffer bleeding disorders, are under one year old, have other neurological problems, have difficulty walking or are active in high contact sports.
If your child is harder to wake up than normal, shows worsened symptoms, won’t stop crying, doesn’t eat well, has worsening headaches or symptoms that have lasted longer than six weeks, then contact your doctor or caregiver. If your child shows a change in personality, bleeds out of the ears or nose, has trouble recognizing people, or vomits repeatedly, go to the emergency room. Dial 911 in the event of seizures, unequal pupil size and longer-term unconsciousness.
Irrespective of advice you get on the Internet or by phone, if you have any doubt in your mind about your child’s health after a head injury, seek the help of a professional. You know your child best!