This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
From climbing trees to making tall bike ramps that are hastily disassembled before parents get home, warmer temperatures have always seemed to bring out the daredevil in children. With these adrenaline-pumping activities comes a greater risk for concussion.
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a direct blow to the head or a hit to the body hard enough to shake the head. Concussions are a well-known concern in competitive athletics, but they can happen during any sport or recreational activity at any age. Experts estimate as many as 3.8 million concussions happen from recreation and sports activities each year, according to an August 2010 report in the medical journal “Pediatrics.”
Concussion is a medical condition about which there is a lot of misinformation. Many parents believe your child must be a star athlete to experience a concussion. Still others believe that if a child does not black out or faint, he or she does not have a concussion. Both of these widely spread beliefs are incorrect.
“People who rule out concussions because a child did not lose consciousness run the risk of complications for not treating the effects on the brain,” said Dr. Sean Goretzke, director of Neurology at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “Parents, trainers and coaches need to be familiar with the symptoms of a concussion.”
Concussion symptoms affect the body in a variety of different ways—physically, mentally and emotionally. Physical symptoms of a concussion include a headache, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. People who have a concussion may experience issues with problem solving, memory, focusing and staying on task.
Emotional problems can be a sign of a concussion as well. People with concussions may be moody, anxious and have poor impulse control. They may have problems falling asleep or being excessively tired.
Many injuries have standard treatments—like ice, physical therapy and medications. Concussions are different. A majority of concussions will actually resolve on their own, but the time period for that healing is different from person to person. Most people experience the serious effects of a concussion for up to seven to 10 days, but others may experience “post-concussive syndrome” and have effects that last for weeks or even months. Knowing when the concussion has healed and physical activity can be safely resumed is crucial to a person’s health.
Experts have noted that there are many people who, after experiencing one concussion, are more likely to experience multiple concussions. A child who receives a second concussion while still experiencing the effects of the first concussion can have a longer recovery time and more serious symptoms.
Many athletes of all levels have considered it a badge of honor to “play through the pain” after being hurt during a game, but it is crucial that anyone who receives a concussion gets appropriate treatment.
“You can’t just play through,” Goretzke said. “A lot of states are passing legislation to protect student athletes. Missouri passed a bill last summer that, once a concussion is determined, the athlete can’t return to play until a medical provider with concussion expertise gives approval.”
If you believe your child has experienced a concussion, it is important to make an appointment with a concussion expert who can treat your child and know when the concussion has healed. SSM Cardinal Glennon holds a concussion clinic to evaluate children who have experienced a head injury. Your child’s pediatrician can also recommend resources for treatment.
There are ways to lessen the chance of concussion. Whether they are playing organized sports or other recreational activities, kids should wear a certified helmet appropriate to the activity. The helmet should be properly fitted and worn correctly.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.