Concussions In Children Concussion Symptoms And Concussion Treatment

Most bumps and bruises sustained by children are relatively harmless, but it is important to recognize when a head injury could be more serious. Understanding what a concussion is and how concussions in children can be prevented can be life-saving information for parents, teachers, coaches, siblings and friends.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a violent blow or shaking to the head that alters the brain’s normal functioning. This altered functioning is usually temporary but can sometimes lead to long-lasting problems.

A concussion occurs when a person’s brain slams against their skull. Normally, the spinal fluid that surrounds the brain acts as a protective cushion, but when strong force is exerted, the brain pushes against this cushion too quickly and subsequently breaks through.

Some people who experience a concussion will lose consciousness, but many others will not. Because of this, and the fact that concussion signs can be subtle, some people do not realize they have had a concussion. The most common concussion symptoms are headache, amnesia and confusion. Additionally, people may experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech and fatigue. Concussion symptoms with a delayed onset can include concentration problems, personality changes, light sensitivity, sleep disturbances and depression.

The issue of children and concussions can be especially hard to handle, because children are not always able to communicate their concussion symptoms effectively. When a head injury occurs in a young child who is unable to communicate how they feel, adults should watch for nonverbal clues of a concussion. These include:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in toys
  • Listlessness
  • Loss of balance.

Concussion symptoms may last for hours, days, weeks or months, depending on the individual and the severity of the injury.

Concussions and Children: Causes

Car crashes, falls and sports-related injuries are common causes of concussions in children. Specifically, falls resulting in a concussion are more likely to occur in children younger than five years of age, while teens and young adults are more often hurt in car crashes. Sports-related concussions occur more frequently in high-intensity, contact sports, such as football, hockey and soccer. Snow skiing, biking and playground injuries also pose a greater risk for concussions in children.

According to a 2010 study published in the journal “Pediatrics,” the number of children aged eight to 13 years who were treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related concussions doubled between 1997 and 2007 and more than doubled in older teens. This increase occurred despite the fact that participation in organized sports has declined slightly.

Concussions in children can also occur from physical abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2010), between 2002 and 2006 physical assault caused 2.9 percent of traumatic brain injuries in children aged 14 years and younger.

Treating Concussions in Children

For children, correct concussion treatment is imperative, because of the sensitivity of the developing brain. According to the Mayo Clinic (2011), this means that an injured child should see a doctor within one to two days of the incident, even if the injury wasn’t severe and concussion symptoms are not present.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends that parents seek emergency care for a child who experiences any of the following concussion signs and symptoms:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in breathing pattern
  • Confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Discharge from the nose or ears
  • Increasingly intense headache
  • Large bumps or bruises on any area of the head other than the forehead
  • Recurrent dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting.

At the examination, the doctor will likely ask about the presence of concussive symptoms and may perform a neurological exam that tests memory, concentration, vision, hearing, balance and coordination. In certain cases, the doctor may also order a cranial computerized tomography scan or a magnetic resonance imaging scan.

For sports-related concussions, children should not return to play while the concussion signs and symptoms are present, especially not on the same day as the injury. In addition to physical rest, they should also undergo cognitive and social rest until the symptoms have cleared. This means that children should not participate in academic pursuits or social activities, such as text messaging, playing video games and watching television.

While most adults will recover from concussion symptoms in seven to 10 days, the Children’s National Medical Center (2009) suggests that children and adolescents can take much longer. Thus, careful post-injury evaluation should be used–rather than a standard timeframe–to determine when children can resume their regular activities.

Preventing Concussions in Children

While concussion treatment is limited, much can be done to prevent concussions. When children compete in sports, make sure to always use the appropriate protective gear. Ensuring that the gear fits properly and is well-maintained will also help prevent injury. Encourage your child to follow the rules of the game and use proper pre- and post-game technique. For activities such as biking, rollerblading and skiing, make sure your child wears a helmet.

Always demand that your child wear a seat belt when in the car. For those children under approximately 5 feet tall, use a safety seat or booster seat. Utilizing your defensive driving skills can also minimize your risk of an accident.

To prevent injuries, safety-proof your home. Keeping areas well-lit and free of clutter can reduce the risk of falls, as can securing rugs and using rubber bathmats. Blocking off stairways and installing window guards can also help prevent falls that may lead to concussions in young children. By padding the edges of countertops and tables, you can reduce the amount of sharp surfaces in your home.