Living With A Concussed Child: What Every Parent Needs to Know, Part 1

footballA while back, I wrote a blog about concussions and head injuries. Reading it now, I can tell you it was academic and informative, with lots on information on what to look for, how to treat it and when to seek medical attention. Since then, our 8-year old son, the hockey player, suffered his first concussion, and boy was it different to actually LIVE and take care of a kid with a concussion! We’ve had a few teammates with concussions this year, so I thought I would revisit the subject, this time from a different vantage point: as a mom. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding concussions in children I have been asked:

  • What exactly is a concussion? 

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Most concussions are caused by a direct blow to the head, face or neck, and they occur often; reports state concussions in young athletes account for anywhere between 150,000-250,000 ER visits per year! is important to realize that concussions in younger athletes will take longer to heal; remember young brains are still developing. Also know that studies show that girls have a harder time recovering from concussions than boys do.

The most important thing to remember regarding concussions is this: we must allow our child’s brain to heal completely before returning to play. A second concussion before the first one heals, known as Second Impact Syndrome, could have serious and even catastrophic consequences. The way I explain it to young athletes, including my own son, is this: “you wouldn’t play with a broken arm, would you? The arm needs to heal, because playing with a broken arm means you won’t be able to play 100%, your arm will never completely heal, and you are likely to have another injury. It is no different with the brain. If you want to play for a long time, let it heal. Then play.”

  • Do helmets protect against a concussion? What are the highest risk sports?

Helmets were designed for preventing skull fractures and serious head trauma; unfortunately, they do not protect against concussions (but kids should still always wear helmets!). Highest risk sports are the obvious; football, hockey (gulp!), lacrosse, boxing. However, most sports medicine doctors at the last conference I attended were discussing the very high numbers of concussions in girl’s soccer and cheer!

  • What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion? 

Only 10% of concussions will have loss of consciousness, so every athlete who sustains a direct hit to the head should be evaluated by a trained professional (coach, trainer, etc) before he or she is allowed to return to play.

Physical Symptoms

  1. Headache
  2. Nausea, Vomiting
  3. Dizziness
  4. Balance problems
  5. Visual problems
  6. Sensitivity to light and sound
  7. Dazed or confused, unequal pupils

Cognitive Symptoms

  1. Difficulty remembering
  2. Difficulty concentrating
  3. Feeling slowed down
  4. Feeling mentally “foggy”
  5. Repeats questions, answers questions slowly

Emotional 

  1. Irritability
  2. Sadness
  3. Short temper, easily frustrated
  4. Nervousness

Sleep

  1. Drowsiness
  2. Sleeping less than usual
  3. Trouble falling asleep
  4. Sleeping more than usual
  5. Difficulty laying flat (made my son’s dizziness worse)

Refer to this list if you ever need to, and remember that headaches and vomiting are not the only symptoms of a concussion!

  •  Stay tuned for Part 2 on Thursday, and you’ll get the answers to the following questions

As a parent, what can I do immediately to help my child with a concussion?

Do I need to take my son/daughter to the Emergency Room? What about CT or MRI?

Return to School and Play: a Step-Up approach

I’ve heard of additional testing and supplements, are they recommended?

When and How should I contact a Concussion Specialist?

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