This article originally appeared in the July 4, 2013, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As warm weather inspires more kids to be active outside, parents and coaches should know the signs of a concussion (hint: an athlete does not have to lose consciousness to have a concussion).
Popular sports movies have sparked the notion that an athlete with a concussion always sustains a hard hit and passes out, but this is simply not true. In fact, most athletes who experience a sports-related concussion do not lose consciousness. The symptoms of a concussion are typically less obvious, requiring parents and coaches to be alert to the potential problem.
Concussion is a brain injury that disrupts normal function, and is usually caused by a sudden jolt or blow to the head or body. The hit doesn’t have to be particularly forceful—concussion sometimes occurs with surprisingly light hits.
Coaches and parents have to be particularly aware of the symptoms of concussion because this type of injury isn’t always obvious. Athletes with a concussion may appear dazed or stunned, be confused or forgetful, show uncharacteristic clumsiness or unsteadiness, or be irritable and easily frustrated. Any sudden change in behavior may be a sign that concussion has occurred.
Physical symptoms are often present as well. The athlete might complain of headache, nausea, double or blurred vision, memory problems, sensitivity to light or noise, feelings of being in a “fog” or feeling slowed down.
There was once a “play through the pain” mentality that plagued sports, but coaches and trainers have increasingly seen the importance of getting rapid evaluation and treatment for a concussion.
“Any athlete who shows signs or symptoms of a concussion should be removed from play immediately,” said Jake Brooks, athletic trainer and outreach manager for SSM Cardinal Glennon SportsCare. “Before returning to activity, the athlete should be evaluated by a health care professional with experience in diagnosing and managing concussion. We know that athletes who have experienced one concussion are more likely to experience others, making it even more crucial to get the right treatment.”
Concussion treatment is primarily physical and mental rest. In the first few days, anyone with a concussion should allow plenty of down time and avoid physically or mentally tiring activities. Doing too much too soon can worsen the symptoms of concussion and make recovery longer. Most athletes with a concussion will recover completely within a few weeks, but it is important to receive clearance from a physician trained in concussion before returning to play.
It is not known why some athletes are more susceptible to concussion than others, but there are some ways to decrease the chances of concussion. For sports that require a protective helmet, athletes should ensure they are wearing the proper helmet for their sport and have it fitted properly. Most rules are in place to prevent injury, so following the appropriate rules for the sport can help decrease the odds of receiving a concussion. Wearing a helmet during sports-related activities such as biking, roller-skating or skateboarding is important to decrease the odds of a serious head injury or concussion.
For more information about concussion or other sports-related injuries, visit cardinalglennon.com/sportstips
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is IMMUNO Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.