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Special Caution on Sports-Related Concussions in Children

Concussions often occur in athletes. But experts still know little about this sports injury. That's because of the brain's complexity and the lack of research on concussions.

Concussions are often hard to spot. A forceful hit to the head or any part of the body that causes a rapid movement of the head may result in a concussion.

Most concussions do not involve loss of consciousness. You don't even have to be hit on the head. A blow to the shoulder that violently snaps the head can cause a concussion.

According to the CDC, 65% of sports- and recreation-related concussions seen in the emergency room are in children ages 5 to 18 years. Symptoms may not happen right away. But they include impaired thinking, memory problems, and changes in emotions or behavior. Concussions in children younger than 10 years old are even harder to diagnose.

Helmets reduce injuries

Head injuries are most common in contact sports. But protective equipment can limit the risk. A helmet reduces the force of contact and slows the impact to the brain.

Unfortunately, helmets can give athletes a false sense of security.

Soccer isn't risk-free, either. Children should not "head" the ball until they are in their mid-teens. But flying elbows, kicked balls, or collisions may pose bigger threats to unprotected heads.

The CDC advises that you know your concussion ABCs:

  • Assess the situation

  • Be alert for signs and symptoms

  • Contact a healthcare provider

Don't return to sports or recreation activities until you see a healthcare provider with experience in treating concussions.

Rest is key for the treatment of a concussion. The brain needs time to repair itself.

Often athletes have no symptoms after a few days. Headaches, nausea, and other problems may return from plunging back into sports too soon, though.

Other rules of treatment:

  • A healthcare provider, school nurse, coach, or trainer who is experienced in evaluating concussions should check the person's mental status right after injury.

  • Remove the person from the activity, especially after loss of consciousness. This is done until a healthcare provider experienced in evaluating concussions gives the person approval to resume sports or recreation activities. Experts agree that the person with the concussion should not return to play the day of a concussion.

  • Initially watch the person's level of consciousness very closely for 30 minutes. Then keep track of their state of consciousness closely for the next 24 to 72 hours.

  • Restrict activity until the person is cleared by their healthcare provider to go back to normal activities.

  • The person should gradually return to light activity. Call the person's healthcare provider if symptoms recur.

Experts agree that more research on concussions is needed. Having had one concussion increases your risk for a second one. Recovery may be slower if a second concussion does happen.

A CT scan of the head may be needed. This is especially true if a person has loss of consciousness or other symptoms.

Signs of a concussion

Symptoms may not occur right away. They may include:

  • Headache

  • Dizziness or vertigo

  • Lack of awareness

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Poor attention and concentration

  • Fatigue

  • Double or blurred vision

  • Irritability

  • Sensitive to light or noise

  • Memory problems

  • Sleep problems

Get medical care right away if you cannot easily wake a person who has a concussion.

Online Medical Reviewer: Anne Fetterman RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph Campellone MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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