Concussions are a type of brain injury that can range from mild to severe. Also known as TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), a concussion is often the result of a blow to the head or an incident that causes the head to move forcefully back and forth. When it happens, the significant changes in brain chemistry and function can potentially damage brain cells.
Common Causes Of Pediatric Concussion
With younger children, a concussion is more likely to be the result of an accidental fall. This could come from:
- A bicycle accident
- Falling from a skateboard
- Not wearing a helmet at the necessary time
- A fall in the home
Teens and youth athletes are more likely to suffer a concussion while practicing or participating in the game. Some of the sports that are more likely to cause a concussion include:
- Ice hockey
- Field hockey
How Does A Concussion Affect The Brain?
On a functional level, the skull is intended to protect the brain from injury. Yet with some falls and hard blows to the head, the brain can actually contact the inner walls of the skull with significant force. When this happens the signals in the brain, and potential blood flow in the area can be altered, leading to concussion symptoms.
A blow to the head or fall that causes a child to lose consciousness is a sign of a likely concussion. However, it is entirely possible for a child of any age to suffer a concussion from a seemingly minor incident. In some of these cases, the overt symptoms might be hard to notice. With some concussions, symptoms don’t manifest until a day or two later.
Potential concussion symptoms include:
- A headache
- Blurred vision, double vision, or a feeling that both eyes aren’t working together
- Trouble walking
- Slurred speech
- Nausea or vomiting
- A lapse in short-term memory
- Problems sleeping
- Emotional distress
- Light or noise sensitivity
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
Symptoms of a severe concussion can include:
- A seizure
- Immediate loss of consciousness
- Persistent vomiting
- Severe loss of balance
- Inability to walk on their own
- Severe headache
In a case like this, your child likely needs treatment in the Emergency Room or an Urgent Care Clinic.
Diagnosing a concussion
Fortunately, concussion awareness has continued to grow. Many sports, athletic associations, and schools have first-aid staff available who are trained in identifying concussions in youth athletes. In fact, many coaches and athletic staff in youth sports receive training in recognizing signs of a concussion.
Immediately following a head injury,the health care provider may:
- Test their memory and concentration
- Test balance and coordination
- Test their reflexes
- Ask about related symptoms
One problem with diagnosing concussions is that they often don’t show up on CAT scans and other types of diagnostics. Today, some schools and athletic associations will perform baseline concussion tests (IMPACT tests) which use a special computer program to test the athlete’s normal brain function. This sophisticated software is designed to test attention, memory, and overall speed of thought.
A physician can then compare the test results after a blow to the head or fall to gauge the severity of the injury and whether full recovery has occurred. During the treatment phase, these same tests can be used to gauge how they are recovering, and when they may be able to return to full activity.
Treating A Mild Concussion
The human body is a very complex organism, and each of us is biologically unique. This means that different individual concussions can heal at their own pace. The overarching goal in concussion recovery is to strike a delicate balance between doing too much and doing too little during the healing process.
Early on in the recovery process, a child or teenagers with a concussion needs to cut back on physical activities. This also pertains to activities that require significant concentration. The Pediatric Group can help monitor your child’s progress as they heal. As time goes on they can start gradually increasing their activity level. If any symptoms redevelop or worsen, your child needs to take a break. A concussion isn’t the sort of thing you should attempt to “Tough It Out.” Your child should not return to full practice or participation until cleared by their doctor to do so, i.e. until they are 100% symptom-free and have gradually increased their activity level over a few days without recurrence of symptoms.
Other things you can do to help your child recover from a concussion might include:
- Cut down or cut out screen time. This includes video games, TV, and phone use.
- Teen drivers should not operate a vehicle.
- Avoid roughhousing and other vigorous activities.
- Get plenty of sleep, while keeping semi-regular sleep and waking times.
- Nap during the day as needed
- Avoid loud music
- No music or screen time for an hour before bed
- Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages
The Pediatric Group’s physicians will provide you with any guidance regarding over the counter pain medications for the headache or to manage discomfort from any secondary injuries.
If symptoms start to show improvement after two to five days, we might recommend some light activity. Just monitor them closely for signs of any worsening or recurring symptoms. If there is an issue, encourage them to take a break and rest. With most concussions, the child can return to school within five days.
If your teenager drives, they may not be healthy enough to safely operate a vehicle for a week to ten days. This is even more likely to be the case if their concussion symptoms caused vision, coordination, or balance problems. It might be necessary for them to take the bus to school for a week or two.
As time goes on, they can start to increase to more moderate activity levels. If you have any questions about lingering symptoms, feel free to call The Pediatric Group for further insights. Most teen athletes can return to full practice and participation within a month. However, if they have had a concussion previously,the healing time may be longer.Further diagnostics may be needed before they can be cleared to return to full participation.
Tips To Help Prevent Concussions
There are things you can do at every age of your child’s life that can help limit or even prevent them from suffering a concussion.
Effective childproofing in the home is critical for reducing your child’s chances of suffering a mechanical injury or accident. Babies and toddlers tend to “Cruise” along with the furniture. Things like dressers, bookcases, and filing cabinets can sometimes be accidentally pulled down. Making sure they are secure in place or to the wall will reduce your child’s chances of suffering an injury of concussion.
Older children and teens participating in sports need to wear helmets and other safety equipment at the necessary times. Even something as simple as always wearing a helmet when biking or skateboarding can go a long way toward reducing your child’s chances of suffering a head injury.
Safety And Concussion Prevention When Traveling
By law, children need to be secured in the proper type of car seat or using seatbelts pertinent for their age and weight. Not only is it the law, but it also helps to significantly reduce their chances of suffering a concussion from an automobile collision or other accident.
If you will be staying in a hotel room, double check all the child safety measures. This includes TV stands, nightstands, bookcases, and furniture, which a toddler could accidentally pull over or down.
The Pediatric Group provides specialized care for children with concussions. We perform:
- Initial and follow up evaluation and treatment.
- Counseling on treatment and recovery.
- Provision of athletic and school excuses as needed.
- Referrals for further testing such as CT scans when appropriate.
- Referral to concussion specialists and physical therapists as needed.
- Interpretation of IMPACT testing and granting of permission to return to school and sports when appropriate.