You may have read and heard a lot about concussions lately. U.S. Congress recently held a special session to learn more about the effects of concussion on National Football League players. Concussions don’t just happen in professional sports, they happen in every sport, at any age, and to both boys and girls.
Concussions are treated much differently now than they were 25 years ago — or even five years ago. While we have learned a lot about concussion, medical professionals still are constantly learning how to better recognize, treat and prevent long-term consequences.
A concussion is a temporary injury to the brain. It usually happens after a direct blow to the head, but it also can happen from a blow elsewhere on the body where the force gets transmitted up to the head. Most young people are not knocked out, and many kids have no memory loss. Even without these symptoms, kids still can have a concussion.
After any hit to the head, it is important to monitor your child for any symptoms or signs of a concussion. Symptoms fall into three categories:
- Cognitive. (Confusion, disorientation, memory loss, slow to answer questions and follow commands, easily distracted.)
- Physical. (Headaches, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, clumsinees or balance problems, blurry vision, poor coordination, sensitivity to light or noise, loss of consciousness or sleep problems.)
- Emotional. (Nervousness or anxiousness, sadness, irritability or mood swings, inappropriate behavior.)
Any athlete with a concussion should stop playing immediately and not continue until a medical professional examines him or her. This is important even if the symptoms last for 15 minutes then seem to vanish. Symptoms may come back, and athletes who start playing too soon or continue to play are at risk for second-impact syndrome, an injury that can result in permanent brain damage and death.
Concussions in young people can last weeks or months. In fact, adolescents with concussions heal more slowly than adults. Symptoms of concussion can interfere with school, social activities and family relationships. Athletes who have had a concussion are at least twice as likely to suffer another one. Each concussion needs to be treated individually, and athletes who suffer multiple concussions will have more problems with recovery.
Treatment for a concussion involves rest from sports and physical activity. Through Children’s Hospital’s Concussion Clinic, we educate families, athletes, coaches and teachers about concussions, and guide a safe return-to-play program. We also use ImPACT™, a computerized testing program to help guide concussion treatment.
I can’t stress enough that all concussions are brain injuries and need to be taken seriously.
- Kevin Walter, MD, pediatric sports medicine specialist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Dr. Walter is the program director of Pediatric and Adolescent Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and assistant professor of Orthopedics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.