Concussions and Children

No. 119; December 2015

A concussion is a brain injury that is usually caused by an injury to the head. It can occur while playing sports, such as football, hockey or soccer, from an accident, or even from a fall at home or in school.

Concussions are common. Over 3 million people in the United States suffer concussions each year. For children and adolescents, approximately 6% of all sports related visits to the emergency room involve a concussion.

Most children do not lose consciousness (get "knocked out") after a concussion. For example, in a recent study of high school athletes, less than 5% of those who had a concussion experienced a loss of consciousness.

The more common symptoms of a concussion include:

  • confusion
  • headaches
  • memory problems
  • dizziness, numbness or tingling
  • blurry or double vision
  • sensitivity to light or noise
  • nausea
  • feeling tired or groggy
  • irritability
  • problems with memory, concentration or sleep
  • problems with balance or walking

Sometimes, the symptoms of a concussion show up right away, other times they appear hours or even days after the accident or injury.

Any child who has a head injury should have a medical evaluation as quickly as possible. A health care professional can determine if they have had a concussion and if treatment is necessary.

After a concussion, the brain needs time to heal. While recovering, it's important to get plenty of sleep at night and to avoid activities that are physically demanding or require lots of concentration. Time on computers and other screens may also need to be reduced.

It is important to tell your child’s teacher, coach and school nurse about the concussion as soon as possible. Many schools have plans in place to help children recover. Plans may include adjusting your child’s schedule and reducing his or her work load.

Children and adolescents who are recovering from a concussion are at increased risk for another concussion. It is very important to let all sports coaches and gym teachers know if your child has had a concussion. Your child should not go right back to playing sports or engaging in other activities where another head injury is possible. Multiple or repeated concussions can lead to lasting and permanent damage to the brain.

Most people with concussions recover quickly and fully but it can take time. For 10 - 20% of people, the signs and symptoms can last for weeks, months or even years. These ongoing symptoms can be confusing and stressful for young people and their families.

Some children, adolescents, and their families may feel anxious, scared, upset or depressed following a concussion or during recovery. If your child has these symptoms, talk to your pediatrician or family physician and ask for a referral to a trained and qualified mental health professional.

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