Concussions in Children – What You Should Know

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When my oldest son was in fourth grade, I got the dreaded school nurse phone call.  Fearing vomiting or an injury requiring stitches, I was initially relieved when the nurse told me why she was calling….

My son had been playing soccer, and while jogging backwards he’d smacked his head into a fence post.  

Well, as a mother of three I’ve been through all kinds of bumps and bruises, and figured she was just being cautious when she asked me to come pick him up.  I know schools have to follow protocol whenever a child hits their head, and usually it’s nothing. 

For my son, it wasn’t “nothing”. 

The school nurse suspected a concussion because he’d been a little nauseous after the incident and seemed a bit loopy.  She wanted me to take him straight to the pediatrician for an examination.  

Thus began our journey with a childhood concussion.

He was diagnosed with a concussion based on an office examination and was sent home with some strict instructions. He had to rest, he could not be active, he needed to be in dark rooms when possible, he could not look at any screens including a television across the room, could not read, and could not do anything that required cognitive effort.  

For my bookworm, active kid, this was a nightmare. Although he wasn’t too sad that he could no longer study for the spelling bee, he was miserable staying still and calm.  Coloring books and Legos lost their charm after half a day.  

I was told to bring him back after three days, in the hopes that he would improve enough to return to school.  

He didn’t. 

Every time we went back, he still had headaches, still was a little slow to answer questions, and was just not himself. He wound up home for three and a half weeks, with doctor follow-ups for monitoring every three days. When he did return to school, he had to start with half days and work his way up to full days over another week.  

I had no idea that a mild concussion could be so disruptive, or that a not-so-hard bump on the back of the head could cause one. With childhood sports injuries on the rise, and advances in neuroscience being made daily, we know that concussions that occur in childhood are more prevalent and potentially serious than was previously thought. From our experience, I have learned so much about concussions, how to be safer, and I know what to look for when one of my kiddos bonks their head.  

Here’s what you should know about childhood concussions: 

  • A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Concussions can occur with a blow to the head or when injury causes the head to move back and forth forcefully. 
  • Concussions can cause chemical changes in the brain and even damage the brain cells. 
  • Concussions in children are most often from contact sports, but can also occur from fights, falls, and car accidents. 
  • People are more likely to get a concussion again if they have already suffered from one.  Precautions should be taken with children who have previously had a concussion during sports and play. 

Symptoms of concussion:

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, groggy or dazed
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Slowness in understanding and responding to others
  • Sleeping problems
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in personality

If you think your child may have a concussion, you have to stop their activity and seek immediate attention from a doctor.  The doctor will do an examination to test memory and concentration, as well as a physical exam to test balance, reflexes, and coordination. They will determine how serious the concussion is, and provide a timeline of when your child can return to normal activity levels. 

Treatment for concussion varies from person to person, so be sure you are checking in with your child to monitor their condition.  Children will first need to REST for several days, with limited to no screen time, physical activity, and mental exertion. Within a few days to a week of the TBI, children can resume LIGHT activity with frequent breaks.  After about 7-10 days, most children can resume MODERATE activity, still taking breaks when needed and avoiding all sports and activities that could lead to another head injury. REGULAR activity can be resumed after a month or more. 

Always follow any instructions and care plan given to your child from their doctor.

You will likely have to make several doctor visits to monitor the progress of healing. Concussions are serious business, and your child can develop further brain injury while in the recovery stage of a concussion if they do not give the brain time to rest and heal.  Even mild concussions that heal fairly quickly and easily can have lifelong effects on kids, and all concussions should be taken very seriously. 

Remember this phrase often said in concussion cases: WHEN IN DOUBT, SIT IT OUT! 

 

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