Identifying and Treating Concussions in Children

A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when the brain bangs against the skull, causing blood vessels to tear and nerves inside the brain to become injured. Many people think that concussions can only happen when someone is knocked unconscious, however, any bump or blow to the head, or a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth, can cause a concussion – often without loss of consciousness.

While concussions are frequently correlated with playing sports, anyone who has a head injury or experiences a sharp hit to the head or body should be watched closely for signs of a concussion.

If you’re a parent or coach who suspects a concussion, you should look for the following signs in a child or teen:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Forgets instructions, is confused about an assignment or position, or is unsure of the game, score or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even for just a moment)
  • Shows mood, behavior or personality changes
  • Is unable to recall events prior to or after a hit to the head or body

Children and teens who experience a sharp hit to the head or body may complain about feeling these symptoms:

  • Ongoing headaches or “pressure” in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems, dizziness or double or blurry vision
  • Feeling bothered by light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy
  • Confusion, concentration or memory problems
  • Feeling down or generally “not right”

It’s important to remember that symptoms of a concussion may not show up right away. It may take 24 to 72 hours after an initial injury for some symptoms to appear. If your child or teen exhibits or complains about experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, call your pediatrician or visit the nearest emergency department right away.

If your child or teen is diagnosed with a concussion, your doctor may recommend a combination of physical and mental rest until the concussion is completely healed. This rest period includes not participating in sports or other physical activities and avoiding any cognitive activity that could make symptoms worse, such as using a computer or other electronic devices, watching TV, reading or doing school work. Those who have been diagnosed with a concussion should also avoid bright lights and loud noises, which can make symptoms worse. Most children and teens are able to return to their normal activities within a few weeks.

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