Children tend to bounce around with vigorous play, especially in their early years. They also tend to be prone to slips, falls, trips, and collisions that defy our understanding of the laws of physics, with rarely a major sprain or broken bone. But what happens when a child suffers a hard blow to the head? What if your child suffers a concussion and they are too young or cannot tell you what they are experiencing?
What Is A Concussion?
Also known as a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), a concussion is essentially a significant type of brain injury that interferes with the brain’s normal function. Most are temporary and resolve completely, though some concussions caused by severe blows to the head can cause permanent damage, especially if untreated.
What Happens If A Concussion Isn’t Treated?
Without treatment, a TBI has the potential to cause long-term complications. This includes chronic headaches, memory problems, and vertigo. TBIs can even lead to something called “Post-Concussion Syndrome” which causes headaches, dizziness, mood swings, and a peculiar type of brain fog that sometimes persists for months after the initial incident.
What Causes A Concussion?
A concussion is typically caused by a jarring blow to the head or a fall where the head is moved violently and rapidly from front to back or side to side. This causes bruising and swelling in the brain that can interfere with normal brain function.
A concussion can be particularly distressing in young children who can’t describe their symptoms. It’s also worth noting that babies, toddlers, and young children may display different symptoms of concussion.
Signs Of A Concussion In A Baby
It can be especially difficult to recognize the signs of a concussion in a baby, as they cannot describe what they are experiencing.
The following are common warning signs of a baby with a concussion:
- Frequent vomiting
- Crying when they move their head
- Sleeping significantly more or less than usual
- A noticeable bump or large bruise on the head
Signs Of A Concussion In A Toddler
Toddlers have better cognition and verbal skills, and can occasionally explain their symptoms, or at least clue you into the fact that they are experiencing something out of the ordinary. Typical symptoms of a toddler with a concussion include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Mood swings and frustration
- Changes in sleeping more or sleeping less
- Excessive crying
- A loss of interest in toys and games they enjoy
Signs Of Concussion In A 2+-Year-Old Child
Children over the age of two can often vocalize that they are experiencing symptoms out of the ordinary, and may be able to indicate that they suffered a blow to the head or a hard fall. Common indicators of a concussion in a child 2 years or older include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Complaining of dizziness or headache
- Balance problems
- Complaining of double or blurry vision
- Increased sensitivity to light or noise
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering simple things
- Being slow to answer questions
- Irritability or changes in mood
- Drowsiness or excessive sleeping
- Changes in their usual sleep patterns
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
When Should I Call A Doctor About My Child’s Concussion?
It can be hard to know when to call a doctor about a suspected concussion in a child . You might even doubt yourself after seeing them fall down, get injured, or suffer a blow to the head. If you suspect that your child, toddler, or baby has suffered a concussion, you should try asking yourself the following questions:
- Is my child behaving normally?
- Does my child seem overly drowsy?
- Is my child showing overt signs of distress or injury?
- Is my child vomiting often?
If your child is active, awake, alert, and happy, and doesn’t seem to have more than a mild bump to the head, then they most likely do not have a concussion. On the other hand, a child who is lethargic, pale, cranky or vomiting several times needs immediate medical attention. If you have any concerns, you might want to call your physician or nurse practitioner to seek further advice.
Should I Take My Child To Urgent Care Or The ER For A Suspected Concussion?
- Some of the more distressing signs of a child who needs urgent attention for a suspected concussion include:
- Frequent or uncontrolled vomiting after suffering a blow to the head
- Losing consciousness for more than a minute.
- They are difficult to wake up
- The child has a notable seizure
- Pupils that are significantly different in size
- An unsteady gait when they walk
Can I Let My Child Sleep After A Suspected Concussion?
It’s alright to let your child nap if they’re sleepy after bumping their head, but you should monitor them very closely and watch for signs of a concussion after they wake up.
How Is A Child Concussion Treated?
A physician will perform an exam to determine if there is significant head trauma or bleeding in the brain after a traumatic brain injury.
With most minor to moderate concussions, the child will recover with rest and decreased activity, though it can take up to a month or more for the brain to fully heal. Your physician might periodically perform tests to monitor your child’s progress during a prolonged recovery.
While their brain is healing you should limit or ideally completely eliminate their exposure to screens. Screens that emit blue light such as flatscreen TVs, tablets, smartphones, and similar devices are especially concerning.
It’s important to let them sleep as needed and allow them to sleep in. Sleep is one of the brain’s most effective ways to heal.
Future Concussion Prevention Is Critical
A growing body of research on traumatic brain injuries has found that further concussions can potentially cause permanent brain damage, especially if they occur within a year after the first concussion. If possible, take steps to prevent further blows to the head, such as securing items your child might accidentally pull down on themselves.
If you happen to see signs of regression in your child’s development, or chronic symptoms such as grogginess, confusion or significant mood swings after a concussion, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician.