If you are part of a family that plays sports, then you probably already know there are some specific risks. Namely general injuries and of course, concussions in kid’s sports. Concussions, commonly considered to be a mild form of TBI (traumatic brain injury), have received a lot of coverage recently because of high profile cases of TBI in professional athletes.   The movie “Concussion” brings to light the ongoing controversy about concussions in the NFL.

A recent study showed as many as 1.9 million kids get concussions each year from sports or other recreational activities. Yet even with the recent publicity about the seriousness of concussions only about half are seen by their healthcare provider. There is a misconception among parents that rest is all that is needed after a concussion. But, parents who will be making decisions about whether or not their child will play football (or other sports) need to be as informed as the coaches about the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that changes the way the brain normally works. It can be caused by a bump, or jolt to the head or from a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. It causes stretching and tearing of brain cells, damaging and creating chemical changes in the brain.

What are the signs & symptoms?

Signs and symptoms usually show up soon after the injury, but the full effect may not be noticeable until hours or days after. You can’t see a concussion like you can other injuries, so it is really important to pay attention to the signs and symptoms kids experience. Parents should repeatedly check for the following:

Signs to watch for:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Can’t recall events prior to the hit, bump or fall
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Behavior changes
  • Forgetful

Symptoms experienced by the athlete:

  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Balance problems
  • Fatigue, sluggish, foggy
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light/noise
  • Numbness
  • Doesn’t “feel right”

How is a concussion diagnosed in children?

A head injury can be scary. But the good thing is it’s usually just a mild concussion which is not too serious. Only about five percent develop bleeding or a blood clot that can be life threatening. Your child should go to the doctor right away if he becomes unconscious, has a headache that won’t go away, dizzy, confused or nauseous. But when in doubt, get prompt medical attention.

The doctor will ask questions about the injury and what was experienced right after and most likely perform a neurologic exam testing the child’s motor and sensory skills, hearing/speech, vision, coordination and balance. These tests are a way to check how well the child’s brain is working. If warranted he may order some imaging tests such as X-ray, CT Scan or MRI.

There are a variety of opinions about how to decide who should be imaged and when. This decision is best reached after being evaluated by one’s doctor, says William Sherman, MD, one of the onsite radiologists at Derry Imaging Center. Dr. Sherman further explained that neuroimaging of patients with concussions generally has two roles in evaluation.

The first is in the immediate post-injury period where CT imaging of the head provides information about serious and possibly life threatening conditions such as bleeding in the brain or brain swelling which require emergent treatment.

The second role in an imaging evaluation follows the immediate post-injury period. This usually involves imaging of the brain using MRI to detect more subtle abnormalities such as microscopic bleeding, bruising in the brain or scarring in the brain. Even some of these microscopic injuries may not be detectable with MRI. However, newer MRI techniques are being studied to better evaluate traumatic brain injury.

What should I do if my child has a concussion?

If your child has a concussion their brain needs time to heal. They need to limit activities while recovering. Exercising or activities involving a lot of concentration like playing video games may cause symptoms such as a headache or tiredness to reappear or get worse. Kids with a concussion should never return to sports or recreational activities on the same day the injury occurred. After a concussion, physical and cognitive activities really should be carefully managed by a health care professional.

You should also be on alert for symptoms that worsen over time and should be taken to the ER right away if observed:

  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Drowsiness and can’t be awakened
  • Headache that worsens and does not go away
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions
  • Increased confusion

There’s no doubt there is an increased risk for concussion by playing sports, but the important thing to remember about concussions is the sooner someone is diagnosed, the better chance they have to make a good recovery. The CDC developed the HEADS UP Concussion in Youth Sports initiative that provides important information on preventing, recognizing and responding to a concussion for coaches, parents, and athletes involved in youth sports.

It’s in the best interest of you and your child to be educated about the signs and symptoms as well as understanding the seriousness of this type of injury and the importance of recovery.

Derry Imaging Center is an independent diagnostic imaging center offering state of the art technology at a fraction of the cost of hospital imaging. All of our radiologists are onsite, board certified and fellowship-trained.

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