Does Your Child Play Sports? Here’s What You Need to Know About Concussions

posted: 04/19/16
by: Katie Morton
boys playing football

Concussions are no longer just for NFL players -- they're a real threat to athletes of all levels and all ages. According to a 2011 report from the CDC, emergency room visits by children for brain-related injuries increased by 60 percent in eight years. So if you're children plays youth sports, you have a right to be a little nervous.

But since it's impossible to wrap your child in bubble wrap before sending them out on the field (or court), it's important to educate yourself on the risks and make sure your children have the proper equipment to keep them safe.

Here's our quick and dirty guide to concussions -- what they are, how to spot symptoms, and what to do if you suspect your child may have one. Concussions can be serious, so remember that it's best to err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting the brain.

What's a concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain. It's caused by a hit to the head or by a hit to the body, which causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. When the brain moves quickly in the skull, it can damage brain cells, leading to serious problems.

What are the symptoms?

Any time your child takes a blow to the head or a body hit which causes the head to hit the ground or jerk rapidly, you should be alert to signs of concussion. If you have any doubt, it's far better to check out the symptoms than ignore them. Be proactive and have a doctor examine your child if you notice anything amiss.

One of the best things you can do for your child is learn the signs and symptoms of a concussion so you know when to call the doctor or head to an emergency room. Knowing when to seek prompt medical attention is the first line of defense in concussion safety.

Signs of a concussion may be subtle and easy to overlook, especially if you're not sure what to look for. Contrary to myth, your child doesn't have to lose consciousness or black out to have a concussion. Here's a list of warning signs that your child may have suffered a concussion after a blow to the head or a hard hit to the body:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble with balance
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Insomnia
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Angry outbursts or irritability
  • Feeling "off"

Be aware that symptoms of a concussion may not present immediately after a head injury, but can take several days to develop. Be vigilant for any of the above symptoms and seek medical evaluation if symptoms do develop.

When to call 911

Serious concussions can present as medical emergencies and should be treated as such. Knowing when to call 911 can save your child's life or the life of another child on the team.

If your child suffers a head injury and presents any of the following symptoms, they need emergency medical attention at a hospital emergency room:

  • Unconsciousness or "blacked out"
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Extreme confusion and disorientation as to date, time, place, or name
  • Profuse vomiting
  • Severe headache, sometimes reported as "the worst headache of their life"

What you can do to prevent concussions

While there's no 100 percent fail-safe way to prevent concussions, there are a few things you can do to minimize your child's concussion risk during youth sports:

  1. If your child hits their head during play, they should stop playing immediately and seek evaluation by a doctor.
  2. Know that a secondary head injury can lead to second impact syndrome. It's rare, but it can cause lasting brain damage, and even death. When in doubt, sit it out. No game is worth the loss of life!
  3. Outfit your child with a properly fitted helmet appropriate for their sport. A helmet which is too loose or not put on properly won't offer the necessary protection.
  4. Meet with your child's coaches to review their policies on concussions. It's never appropriate for a child to return to the playing field on the same day they've taken a hit to head to the head. Make sure the coaches and leagues are trained on the signs of a concussion and know when to seek medical attention. Also ensure that they insist on the correct protective equipment during play and practice.
  5. Don't let your child play if they're overtired or dehydrated. Both can increase their risk of concussion.

Sports medicine--and the diagnosis and mechanisms of injury for concussions--is an ever-evolving field. Check out "Concussions and Our Kids: America's Leading Expert on How to Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe" authored by Dr. Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman for an in-depth exploration of the topic.

All sports involve some inherent risk, but know that with proper equipment and education, you can help keep your child safe on the field.