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7 Things Every Parent Needs To Know About Concussions

Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis (2014) Trailer from Head Games The Film on Vimeo.

We all know that kids can benefit a lot from sports, gaining team-building skills, learning life lessons and focusing on fitness. However, evidence is mounting that there’s cause for concern when it comes to impact sports – even minimal impact sports. You’ve probably been hearing more lately about the concussion crisis. Of particular concern are the chronic effects of repetitive head trauma over time.

How serious is this issue? “Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis” is a documentary that unearths some surprising neurological findings as it investigates the concussion crisis in sports. It takes a deeper look at the devastating long-term effects of head trauma.

We contacted Dr. Jack Spittler, Senior Instructor of Family Medicine and Sports Medicine at the University of Colorado, to find out what parents should do when they suspect a child has a concussion. Here’s what he said:

1) What to look for if you think your child might have a concussion (symptoms)

Loss of consciousness, headache, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision, balance problems, sensitivity to light/noise, feeling in a “fog” or “not right, ” difficulty concentrating/remembering, confused, drowsy, trouble sleeping, emotional changes (irritable, sad, anxious)

2) What symptoms are serious or “red flags’ that warrant immediate medical attention (9-1-1)?

Prolonged loss of consciousness (>1 min), difficulty breathing,  repeated vomiting, seizure/convulsions, deteriorating level of consciousness, paralysis of arms or legs, double vision or loss of vision, increased confusion/agitation, slurred speech, worsening headache

3) What should you do if you think your child might have a concussion?

If there are “red flag” symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.  If red flag symptoms are not present, the first step is to remove the child from the competition or activity.  If a concussion is suspected, the child should NEVER return to the potentially harmful activity before a complete medical evaluation is done with a trained provider.  Schedule an appointment with your primary health care provider or another medical provider trained in concussion evaluation (i.e. athletic trainer) as soon as possible.

4) What you should NOT do if you think your child might have a concussion

You should NOT blow off the symptoms as merely getting their “bell rung” or “dinged!”  Do NOT allow the child to continue the potentially harmful activity until getting a medical evaluation.  Concussions and other head injuries can have serious consequences if not treated appropriately.

5​) What after effects are possible, when can they return to play, etc.

Most concussion symptoms fully resolve within 1-2 weeks.  Before returning to physical activity, the child should be symptom free and have an evaluation that includes memory, balance, coordination, and strength testing. These levels should be back to the child’s “baseline” or normal levels.  Once your child is deemed to be back to their “baseline” by a medical professional, a graduated return-to-play protocol should be utilized.  This will consist of a progression to light aerobic activity, sport-specific exercise, non-contact drills, full contact practice (if a contact sport), and then full competition.  If the child experiences any symptoms or set-backs at any point, they will return to the prior level of activity.  Therefore, at the very earliest, a child may be back to full competition within 2-3 days of initializing this progression.

6) What prolonged damage is possible (after multiple concussions, memory loss, depression, etc.)

There have been some recent research studies that have linked repetitive concussions with long-term neurologic consequences.  These consequences may include cognitive deficits, memory loss, emotional changes (i.e. depression), and concentration problems.  This risk is heightened if a child returns to activity too early and sustains another head injury, before their brain is fully recovered.  If your child has prolonged concussion symptoms (more than 2 weeks) or sustains more than 2 or 3 concussions, you may want to have a discussion with your medical provider about whether the child should discontinue the offending sport/activity.

7)  What can you do to help prevent and identify concussions?

One of the best ways to prevent concussions is through proper technique.  If your child is participating in a sport where they risk head injury, make sure that they are learning proper technique for avoiding head injury from their coaches.  It is also important to ensure that your child has the proper protective equipment (i.e. helmet) and that this equipment fits correctly.  In addition, it is helpful to understand the symptoms of a concussion, so that you can identify a concussion early and take the proper action promptly.  This knowledge is incredibly powerful, as you can help educate others and prevent children from having serious long-term consequences from concussions!

~ Jack Spittler, MD; Senior Instructor, Family Medicine and Sports Medicine, University of Colorado


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