Watch for Signs of Concussion in Your Young Athlete

September 30, 2014 Providence Health Team

Contact sports and concussions are a serious combination. Just ask any professional football player. They frequently have their “bell rung” after being slammed in the helmet with a forearm or making violent, head-first contact with the turf. We often see players lying motionless on the field for a minute or two before being helped off. Some return to the game, while others spend the night in the hospital.

Even though kids play competitive sports at a slower, less-intense level, they’re just as susceptible to the damaging consequences of concussions. Up to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur annually in the US. The actual number could be even higher. Experts believe many go unreported because coaches and parents aren’t aware their young athlete has suffered a concussion.

Why Are Kids More Susceptible to Concussions?

A concussion sends a shock wave to the brain and can actually shake it within the skull. It puts the brain into a neurological panic, temporarily incapacitating it to varying levels.

What makes young athletes particularly prone to concussions? The reasons are physiological. The head-to-body ratio of children and young adults is greater than that of adults – a child’s head is a larger target in relation to his torso than an adult’s. And a young person’s weaker neck muscles can’t do much to keep his head from snapping forward or backward after an opposing player’s hit.

Not everyone who suffers a concussion loses consciousness. In fact, most people don’t. Sometimes, coaches and the player himself may not realize a concussion has happened. Other times, a player just wants to show how tough he is and immediately returns to game action. This puts the athlete at risk for “second-impact syndrome.” That’s when the player’s brain, still reeling from an initial concussive impact, is shocked by a second jolt that can trigger brain swelling and possible permanent neurological trauma – or even death.

A player who suffers multiple concussions or whose concussive injuries are ignored or mismanaged is susceptible to suffering memory loss, Parkinson’s disease or early Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Medical studies of aging professional athletes are confirming that conclusion. So, make sure everyone involved with your child’s team is aware of the symptoms of a concussion and that there’s a process in place to keep the young athletes as safe as possible.

Concussion’s Warning Signs

Common symptoms to watch for if you suspect a player has suffered a concussion include:

  • Dizziness
  • Problems with balance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to external stimuli, including light and noise

If an athlete displays any of these symptoms, it’s essential to remove him from additional game action and contact the child’s primary care provider. The provider may want to see the child or suggest he is evaluated at an urgent care facility.

If there’s some doubt whether your athlete has suffered a concussion, stay vigilant. These symptoms can develop hours or days later:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory loss

If you see any combination of those signs, consult the child’s primary care provider for further evaluation. Recovering from a concussion can take time. Often, rest and a break from mental stimuli are all it takes. Your provider will make that call.

While football and ice hockey statistically are most commonly associated with concussions, the risk exists with all competitive sports. Young women are even more likely to suffer concussions, although experts aren’t sure why.

If your child is involved in competitive sports, be sure everyone involved with the team – kids and adults alike – is educated about the risks of a concussion. For more information about concussions, or if you suspect your child has suffered one, consult your Providence Medical Group primary care provider.

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