Football season has kicked off, and Friday night lights are shining for parents around the nation. Unfortunately, with football comes injuries, and the most common injuries discussed today are concussions. Even if your child doesn’t play football but is involved in another sport, you should know the definition of a concussion and what this means for your child.
A concussion is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the body, with a force transmitted to the head, causing an injury to the brain. Because kids are not fully physically developed, having thinner skulls and weaker neck muscles, they are more susceptible to concussions.
Concussions have been estimated to account for 9 percent of all high school athletic injuries. However, it is estimated that 50 percent to 75 percent of concussions among high school athletes go unreported. What is most alarming in youth sports is that those 13 and younger are more likely to receive a concussion, and most of those are not reported.
Before your children get involved in sports, it’s important that you and your kids are properly educated and know what to do if a concussion is suspected. This should start with a checklist of the basics:
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▪ Does your child know how to recognize and report a suspected head injury?
▪ Does your child know how to express a head injury to a coach, parent or teammate?
▪ Does your child’s team or league have a concussion protocol?
▪ What type of physician (neurologist, family medicine or pediatrician) would you take your child to for the evaluation and treatment of a concussion?
Once your child has started playing, become vigilant about head injuries. If you suspect your child has suffered a hit to the head, watch for these common symptoms of a concussion:
▪ Confusion or the feeling of being “in a fog.”
▪ Dizziness or balance problems.
▪ Fatigue or drowsiness.
▪ Nausea and/or vomiting.
▪ Sensitivity to light and noise.
▪ Irritability or nervousness.
▪ Trouble concentrating.
If you think your child or adolescent has a concussion, there are a number of dos and don’ts to follow:
▪ Do stop playing – immediately!
▪ Do tell a coach, trainer, teammate, friend or parent.
▪ Do consult a physician.
▪ Do keep hydrated.
▪ Do get some rest.
▪ Don’t continue playing.
▪ Don’t return to sports activities without medical clearance.
▪ Don’t consume alcohol.
▪ Don’t drive.
The nation’s growing awareness of concussions in the last decade has helped pass legislation to improve the treatment and management of concussions, especially in young athletes. State law requires parents, coaches, athletic trainers and, in some states, athletes to provide education about the symptoms and risks of a concussion. During athletic events, an athlete exhibiting concussive symptoms must be immediately taken out of play and is not allowed to return until they have received clearance from a medical professional.
As a result of legislation and research findings, the “6 Steps to Safe Play” were developed. Of particular significance are the tests now available to test your child’s brain function before and after injury. If your teen participates in a school sport, the following “6 Steps to Safe Play” are recommended:
1. Your child should have a preseason baseline, which is completed with ImPACT, a neurocognitive computerized test for kids 13 and older.
2. Sideline testing with SCAT 3, King Devick or BESS should be available.
3. If your child is injured while playing, he or she should be re-tested with ImPACT.
4. If concussion symptoms and ImPACT indicate a possible concussion, immediately seek medical treatment at a concussion clinic.
5. Once cleared by the doctor, your child can return to play and return to learn.
6. The team’s athletic trainers should have access to the Concussion Injury Surveillance System, a tool used to track concussions.
If a concussion is left untreated or an athlete sustains multiple concussions, your child could suffer permanent brain injury. The inherent competitive nature of sports and culture to win at all costs may sometimes overshadow the need to call attention to reporting injuries. As a coach, parent, athlete and even a fan, we must encourage the reporting of head injuries within the sports culture. An athlete’s awareness of the signs, symptoms, and effects of a concussion can only improve the safety of our athletes. Educating all parties, particularly our youth athletes, has shown to increase concussion awareness and reporting, making it a vital component of sports safety this school year.
For more information, visit UConcussion.com.
Gillian Hotz, Ph.D., is the director of the Kidz Neuroscience Center at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.