Concussions in Kids

Concussions can be serious if left untreated especially among kids. A national survey revealed that of the 13,000 adolescent correspondents, 19.5% of them were diagnosed with a concussion at least once in their lifetime. Prevalence was much higher among male and white adolescents participating in sports, such as football, hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. Concussions can also happen during car or bicycle accidents or falls.

What is a Concussion

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that happens when a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or any part of the body, makes the head move back and forth quickly with a significant amount of force. This causes the brain to bounce or twist in its surrounding fluid, which can cause chemical changes in the brain and sometimes damage brain cells. Symptoms appear due to the changes in signals between nerves.

Concussions are especially dangerous to a child’s developing brain in comparison with the brain of a full-grown adult. Children suffering from a concussion may not be able to tell how they’re feeling. In addition, concussion symptoms sometimes appear hours or even days after the injury.

Signs and Symptoms

Although the signs and symptoms of a concussion are generally the same for any age, it is important to be more vigilant and extra careful when trying to determine a concussion incident for babies, toddlers and older children. Concussion tests can help determine if a child has suffered a concussion even if the injury may seem mild.
Signs of Concussion in Babies Signs of Concussion in Toddlers Signs of Concussion in Children Ages 2 and Up
Crying when head is moved Headache Dizziness or balance problems
Irritability Nausea or vomiting Double or blurry vision
Interruption in usual sleeping habits Changes in behavior Sensitivity to light and noise
Vomiting Sleep changes Daydreaming
Bump or bruise on the head Excessive crying Trouble concentrating
  Loss of interest in doing their favorite activities Confusion and forgetfulness
    Being slow to answer questions
    Slurred speech
    Mood swings
    Drowsiness
    Changes in sleep patterns

What are Concussion Tests?

Concussion tests are used to assess brain function following a head injury. It involves answering a questionnaire to measure attention, memory, speed of answers and other abilities. Children may be checked for changes in vision, hearing, balance, coordination, reflexes and concentration. It may sometimes include the following imaging tests:
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – a type of X-ray that takes a series of pictures from different angles to produce images of the body using radiation
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – makes use of powerful magnets and radio waves to generate images of the organs of the body

What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) or post-concussive syndrome is a condition when a person experiences lingering symptoms or continues to feel at least three of the following symptoms following a concussion:
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Vertigo
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sleeping problems
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Personality changes
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
Not all people who are diagnosed with a concussion develop PCS. Some experts believe that people with underlying psychiatric conditions are more likely to develop this condition.

Treatment

Rest is the primary and only treatment for a concussion for the brain to heal. Recovery varies from one person to the next. Healing can take months or even a year depending on the severity of the injury. The following are steps to help with the recovery process:
  1. Cut down on screen time. TV, video games, tablets, music and smartphones overstimulate and excite the brain and are likely to cause symptoms or make them worse.
  2. Don’t let your teen drive. Your child may have difficulty doing physical activities that require a lot of concentration like driving and doing homework.
  3. Avoid all sports. Roughhousing with friends or riding a bike or skateboard could lead to another head injury. A second concussion is much more dangerous than the first.
  4. Get a lot of zzz’s. Help your child keep a regular sleeping and waking schedule.
  5. Talk to your healthcare provider. Headaches are the most common complaint following a concussion. Check with your doctor about over-the-counter medicines.
Although most children recover within a couple of weeks, it is important for parents to talk to their doctor to help develop a plan for safe return to school and play, especially if a child is involved in sports. Ask your child’s doctor for written instructions before allowing your child to return to sports. A repeat concussion before the brain has fully healed can be fatal.

When to Call a Doctor

If your child is awake, active and acting normally after a mild bump to the head, your child is most likely fine. In rare cases, a head injury can cause a hematoma in a child’s brain. Go to the emergency room or dial 911 if your child shows any of the following symptoms:
  • Loss of consciousness for more than one minute
  • Memory loss for more than 24 hours
  • Seizures
  • One pupil is larger than the other
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Difficult to wake up
Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institutes of Health
MedlinePlus
Medical News Today
KidsHealth
Healthline

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