It may come as a surprise to learn that concussions are becoming more of a risk among youth and student-athletes, but these injuries are plentiful and instances of them are on the rise. To put the problem in perspective: of the 12 high schools in Philadelphia’s Central Athletic League, 223 concussions were reported among students from 2010 to 2011. And, nationwide, reports show that concussions in children doubled from 1997 to 2007. With the Center for Disease Control (CDC) claiming an average of 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries every year, the need for increased awareness on the issue is important, especially for our nation’s youth.
When a child or teenager suffers a head injury, the damage can be worse than it is for an adult. A younger brain is still developing, so a blow to the head can stunt the growth process, presenting many complications.
What is a Concussion?
Concussions are mild forms of brain injuries which often result from a blow or jolt to the head. They are considered mild forms of brain injuries because they are not often life-threatening. However, if the victim of a concussion does not receive adequate medical attention the consequences of a concussion can be serious.
The circumstance which most often leads to a concussion is a blow to the head, meaning some object has struck the skull. A blow to the head is easier to identify than a jolt because it often results in physical injuries, such as bumps, bruises, and abrasions. A jolt may result in no physical signs of injury. Like a whiplash injury, a concussion can occur when the skull is quickly moved back and forth.
In all cases, however, there are signs which indicate that a concussion has occurred and may worsen if not properly treated. Symptoms of serious concussions are:
- Mood swings
- Hazy thoughts/inability to think clearly
- Memory loss
- Trouble balancing
- Sleep abnormalities including sleeping more than usual or sleeping less than usual, depending on your normal habits.
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to seek medical attention.
Signs That a Concussion is Getting Worse
It is especially wise to seek a doctor evaluation if you have experienced one or more of the following symptoms. These symptoms may indicate that your concussion has worsened since the injury took place.
- One of your pupils is noticeably larger than the other
- When sleeping, you cannot easily be awakened
- Your speech slurs and you are less coordinated than usual
- You have difficulty recognizing people and/or places
- You have consistent headaches
What to Do When Your Child Gets a Concussion
If you or your son or daughter suffers from a concussion, there are three major things you should do to facilitate a quick and full recovery.
- Seek immediate medical attention– An experienced doctor will be able to evaluate a concussion and recommend the correct method of treatment to ensure your child returns to normal daily activities.
- Rest, rest, rest– Recovering from a concussion requires some downtime. Refraining from physical activities is essential, as well as refraining from prolonged concentration on TV, video games, or books. Time off from school or work is recommended.
- Contact school officials – To fully recover, your son or daughter will need to move at a slower pace. Tests or in-class assignments may require more time to complete. Frequent breaks during the school day may also be necessary. Contact teachers, coaches, and the school nurse to alert them of your child’s injury.
How Coaches Should Respond to a Youth Athlete Head Injury
One of the leading problems associated with untreated concussions is that the injury is overlooked by coaches, teachers, and other school personnel. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently promoting their “Heads Up” program, which aims to enlighten parents and school faculty on the subject of youth concussions.
Many school sports coaches believe that concussions only occur when the injured person loses consciousness. On the contrary, it is entirely possible to sustain a concussion injury without losing consciousness at all. Common misconceptions like these are why the CDC feels the need to release widespread concussion fact sheets. Among the advice listed by the “Heads Up” program is a series of bullet points which outline how a coach should respond to a student head injury:
- Take the student out of the game- If it seems like a head injury has occurred, remove the player from the game and inspect his or her head for signs of injury. If the student shows signs of concussion, do not allow him or her to continue playing.
- Have the student medically evaluated- Coaches are not medical professionals. If a student is harmed, have a physician evaluate the injury. To help the process, record useful information to help the doctor; information like the circumstances of the concussion, whether or not the student experienced loss of consciousness, loss of memory, or had a seizure.
- Let the student’s parents know- If in doubt that a concussion even took place, still let the parents know. Inform them whether or not the student has been medically evaluated and, if not, advise that they seek medical attention just to be safe.
- Require permission of a doctor before returning the student to play– If a student is concussed a second time, the repercussions could be severe. This is called second impact syndrome. It is best to be absolutely certain that the student is safe to continue playing rather than risk a case of second impact syndrome. Require parents to have a doctor give the OK before returning the student to play.
Youth concussions should not be taken lightly. Carpey Law feels strongly that all schools should implement safeguards to protect our nation’s kids from the long-term effects of head injuries.