Concussions: What Parents Need to Know

Over the last few years, concussion has become the most common diagnosis seen in our sports medicine clinics. Because these injuries occur so frequently in young athletes, it’s important for parents to know how to recognize them and to know what to do if you suspect your child or teenager has suffered a concussion.

A concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury, may be caused by a direct blow to the head or neck or by an indirect blow to the body that causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth, like a whiplash injury.

Contrary to popular belief, most concussions don’t involve loss of consciousness. And although signs and symptoms of a concussion can show up immediately after an injury, sometimes the symptoms of a concussion may not appear until hours or days after the injury. As a parent, it’s important to notice changes in how your child or teen is feeling or if symptoms are getting worse, so you can seek medical attention right away if necessary.

The most common initial symptoms of concussion include headache, dizziness, light and noise sensitivity, feeling foggy, confused or slowed down and having difficulty remembering. Later symptoms may include problems such as emotional changes or changes in sleep patterns, like sleeping more than usual or difficulty falling asleep. Rapidly worsening headaches, seizures, repeated vomiting or double vision may all be signs of an even more serious injury and parents should seek immediate care if any of these symptoms are present.

If a concussion is suspected during an athletic event, your child should immediately be removed from play and not allowed to return until evaluated and cleared by a medical professional trained in concussion management, such as a physician or certified athletic trainer. Before returning to any contact activity, the athlete should be feeling back to normal and complete a standardized 5 step progression of gradually increasing physical activity (ideally under supervision of an athletic trainer) without developing any symptoms.

The best early treatment for concussions is physical and mental rest. Physical activity after a concussion can stress the brain and make symptoms worse. And suffering another blow to the head before fully recovering from a concussion can lead to Second Impact Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by swelling in the brain. Mental rest includes avoiding stimulating technology, such as computers and video games, and limiting TV and cell phone time. Depending on the severity of symptoms, some kids may also need special accommodations at school or need to stay home altogether for a few days following concussion. Most young athletes will usually recover from a concussion within a few days or weeks. For athletes who suffer from prolonged symptoms or have experienced multiple concussions, it may be necessary to take extended time off from sports or retire from contact sports altogether.

Concussions can have a serious impact on young children and teens, but having the right information and supports available can help your child recover more effectively. To learn more about concussions and access free resources for your family, download our free concussion guide.

Steven Cuff
Dr. Steven Cuff is a Sports Medicine physician and co-director of the Sports Concussion Program at Nationwide Children’s. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Cuff is board certified in pediatrics and sports medicine by the American Board of Pediatrics. He currently serves on the Ohio AAP's Home and School Health committee as co-chair of the Sports Medicine Sub-committee. He is also a member of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and serves on their Education committee. Follow Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital on Facebook and Twitter. @NCHSportsMed

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