Is it a concussion? How to respond.A concussion is an injury to the brain that is caused by a bump or blow to the head. Anyone can have a concussion due to a fall, a car accident, a collision during sports, or even after being struck by a fast-moving object. A concussion can even occur when the body moves so suddenly and rapidly that the motion jolts the head back and forth very quickly.
Concussions lead to approximately 500,000 annual emergency department visits for children under the age of 14. This number does not include kids with concussions who are seen in offices and clinics.
Although concussions range from mild to severe, all concussions in kids need to be evaluated by a health care provider. It’s important that you learn to recognize the symptoms of a concussion, as well as learn the facts about treatment and prevention.
Should your child suffer a concussion, it’s crucial that he not return to regular play, school, social activities and sports until all symptoms are resolved and a health care provider has given the okay. An injured brain needs time to rest and heal.
Ranging from subtle to obvious, the symptoms of a concussion can occur immediately after the injury — or hours, days or weeks later — and can last from days to months. Many athletes feel normal after a head injury, only to return to the game with a concussion. Most concussions do not cause a child to be knocked out or to experience a loss of consciousness. Symptoms include:
• Feeling dazed, stunned or mentally “foggy”
• Trouble concentrating or remembering
• Being confused or forgetful about recent events
• Being slow to answer questions
• Experiencing a headache
• Having nausea or vomiting
• Experiencing dizziness or balance problems
• Having double or blurry vision
• Being sensitive to light and/or noise
• Experiencing changes in mood (being irritable, sad, emotional or nervous)
• Feeling drowsy
• Sleeping more or less than usual
• Having trouble falling asleep. Symptoms that require a trip to the emergency department right away include:
• Loss of consciousness
• A worsening, lingering headache
• Being numb, weak or losing coordination
• Repeated vomiting
• Slurred speech
• Severe drowsiness, inability to wake up
• Having one pupil larger than the other
• A convulsion or a seizure
• Worsening confusion, restlessness, agitation or unusual behavior
• Inability to recognize surrounding people
• Inability to stop crying or to be consoled
• Refusal to nurse or to eat (in babies and young children).
All concussions are serious and must be evaluated by a health care provider. The severity of the symptoms will determine if a visit to the emergency department is necessary.
Young kids and teens tend to recover from concussions more slowly than adults. Most kids recover fully, without permanent issues. However, once a child suffers a concussion, there is a higher risk for a future concussion, and recovery may take longer. A CT scan or MRI and neurological tests may be done to learn the level of injury.
Treatment includes complete rest from physical and mental activities, which may affect school attendance.
Not all concussions can be prevented, but some can be avoided. Observing these safety rules is a good start.
• For riding activities and contact sports, kids must wear helmets that fit properly.
• Restrain all passengers in any vehicle.
• Instruct athletes on game rules, following the rules and playing the sport safely.
• Teach kids to let a coach or parent know if they hit their head or are having symptoms of a concussion.
• Remember this recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “When in doubt, sit them out!”
Kathy Kent, DNP, CPNP, works for Northpoint Pediatrics in Indianapolis, IN. She is also the owner of the BABY SQUAD, LLC, a company dedicated to educating parents in the care and safety of young kids.