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Decoding concussion: Answering parents’ FAQs

Published by , on Mar 17, 2019

Your child has been complaining of a headache, having trouble sleeping and not quite acting like themselves. What’s going on? If they’ve recently experienced a bump, hit or fall, it may be a concussion.

Athletic trainer Kassi Kelly, MS, LAT, ATC is part of our comprehensive concussion team and helps us decode sports concussions by answering some of our parents’ frequently asked questions.

Note: If your child passes out, has a seizure or complains of a severe headache, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency department immediately.

Upset Soccer Player After Game LossWhat is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury that temporarily disrupts the way the brain functions. Even though we use the word mild, the effects of a concussion can be serious so it’s important to get your child checked out by a medical professional if you suspect they may have a concussion.

What causes a concussion?

Concussions are caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, neck or body that causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth inside the hard skull. This sudden movement creates chemical changes in the brain. You don’t actually need to hit your head. A hard fall or hit to the body can cause enough force for a concussion.

What signs should I look for?

Each child and concussion is unique, so it’s important to look for changes in what is normal for your child…and even if your child has had a concussion before, a second concussion may have completely different symptoms. Concussion symptoms can include subtle or significant changes in the way a person feels, thinks or acts.

  • Physical symptoms: headache, pressure in the head, nausea/vomiting, balance issues, sensitivity to light/noise, vision problems, fatigue, dizziness
  • Emotional symptoms: sadness, irritability, feeling more emotional than usual, nervousness/anxiousness, loss of interest in activities
  • Cognitive symptoms: difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering, feeling foggy/sluggish, slow response time, difficulty thinking clearly, confusion
  • Sleep symptoms: difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleeping more or less than usual, drowsiness

Is it normal for new symptoms to occur days after injury?

While you may notice certain symptoms immediately after injury, others can go unnoticed for hours or even days. Your child may not notice specific symptoms until they try to participate in an activity for the first time following injury. Consult with your child’s physician as new symptoms develop so necessary adjustments can be made to the treatment plan.

My child wasn’t knocked unconscious. Can they still have a concussion?

Yes. Actually fewer than 10% of concussions involve the person being “knocked out.” Even if your child is showing signs and symptoms that you would consider to be mild, it’s still important to have them checked out.

How is a concussion diagnosed?

A concussion is a functional injury, affecting how you think or feel, rather than a structural injury like a sprain. This means it won’t show up on an x-ray or MRI. A trained medical professional can perform an evaluation to determine whether or not your child has sustained a concussion. If the injury occurs while playing a sport, an athletic trainer may do a sideline concussion evaluation. If a concussion is suspected, your child must stop playing and follow up with a physician for further evaluation. The physician can then develop an individualized treatment plan to help your child recover as efficiently as possible.

How can a concussion impact performance in school and sports?

If you think your child has experienced a concussion, they should not participate in physical activities until they’re seen by a health care provider. While emphasis is often put on removing athletes from play, children also tend to experience concentration issues and fatigue after a concussion so rest from academic activities may also be necessary. A health care provider who specializes in concussion care can provide guidelines to help your child progress back to the classroom and other activities at the appropriate pace.

How long does it take to recover from a concussion?

Recovery from most concussions occurs within about four weeks for children, but it varies from person to person and injury to injury.

What is involved with concussion treatment?

The medical professionals and approaches involved with your child’s treatment process will depend upon the type and severity of symptoms they’re experiencing. A physician will evaluate your child and recommend specific services to appropriately address the identified deficits. These services may include neuropsychological testing, vision therapy, vestibular therapy, speech therapy, mental health services, school consultation and/or return to play progressions.

What can parents do to help with the recovery process?

First and foremost, don’t ignore your child’s symptoms or encourage them to “tough it out.” Trying to do too much too soon can make symptoms worse and cause recovery to take even longer. Make sure they’re getting plenty of rest and sleep to help the brain heal. Try to encourage regular bed times and wake times, with naps during the day if needed. Avoid caffeine and limit screen time. It may be harder for your child to concentrate, so try to provide quiet spaces and plenty of time for them to focus and complete tasks. They may need more breaks than usual throughout this process.

What should I do if I think my child has a concussion?

If you suspect your child has a concussion, you should remove your child from physical activity until they are seen by a health care provider. The physician will work with your family to develop a treatment plan, factoring in school, sports, sleep and other daily activities. Be sure to tell the physician all of the symptoms your child is experiencing, no matter how minor. This will help to ensure that the treatment plan is as individualized and effective as possible. They may recommend a gradual return to certain activities. Following the plan and regularly communicating changes in symptoms will promote the safest and best recovery.

How can I protect my child from concussions in the future?

It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of concussive injuries to help recognize a potential concussion. You should also encourage your child to follow proper safety rules for their activity. Examples of this can include wearing a helmet while riding their bike and riding on the right side of the road. Finally, you should make sure that all of their sporting equipment fits properly. While there is no helmet that can prevent a concussion, properly fitting helmets can reduce the risk of sustaining a more serious injury such as a skull fracture.

If you think your child has experienced a concussion, our expert team can help.

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