Concussions: Risks, Concerns
The helmets slam under the stadium lights. Some spectators cheer while others cringe watching the hit. As evidenced by numerous studies and real-life happenings, there are very real dangers in playing contact sports, risks that every parent with a child involved in sports should consider.
Memorial Hospital of Converse County Physician Assistant Phil Tigert says that concussions are fairly common for contact sports participants, so knowing what to watch for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if a concussion occurs is important.
"The first thing to remember is if you do hit your head and lose consciousness, seek medical attention immediately," Tigert said. "There's increased risk of swelling in the brain if consciousness is lost. It needs to be instilled in them to get out of the game and be evaluated."
That culture of understanding is something Douglas High School Athletic Director Justin Carr said the school is trying to create in all of their athletic departments.
"We've tried to create a culture where kids feel comfortable reporting injuries in general," Carr said. "It's important kids learn how to advocate for themselves."
Douglas High School has had a concussion policy in place for a number of years and is implementing some changes to its programming to reduce concussions and keep closer tabs on students who may experience a concussion. Recently, the school has implemented more neck muscle strength training as having stronger neck muscles have been shown to reduce concussions, especially for females who are more prone to a whiplash type concussion.
"If you strengthen the neck muscles - that's the best way you can reduce the chance of a concussion," Carr said. "All of our wrestling, football, basketball and weight training programs are all implementing that."
If a concussion is suspected, the school also has a five-step process before a student is allowed to return to sports participation. And athletic trainer Jenna Walker is doing a baseline test on all athletes that allows her to compare post-concussion results against the baseline results if it is suspected a student has had a concussion.
Ultimately, while there is little you can do to prevent concussion, being proactive in seeking treatment and taking appropriate time to heal can reduce long-term effects of concussion. With the recent release of the movie Concussion, more people are aware about the risks and problems that can be caused if a concussion occurs.
"The public is much more aware now than we were even a decade ago," Tigert said.
Some important signs to watch for include headache, confusion, amnesia, nausea, vomiting and even tiredness. Beyond seeking treatment following a suspected concussion, Tigert said it's important to get plenty of rest and refrain from participating in any sporting activities to allow time for the brain to heal.
Here's a few things to consider about concussions:
Signs of a Concussion
Be alert for symptoms that worsen over time. Your child or teen should be seen in an emergency department right away if s/he has:
- One pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other
- Drowsiness or cannot be awakened
- A headache that gets worse and does not go away
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Convulsions or seizures
- Difficulty recognizing people or places
- Increasing confusion, restlessness, or agitation
- Unusual behavior
- Loss of consciousness (even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously)
What should you do if you think your child has a concussion?
1. Seek medical attention right away.
A health care professional will be able to decide how serious the concussion is and when it is safe for your child to return to regular activities, including sports.
2. Keep your child out of play.
Concussions take time to heal. Don't let your child return to play the day of the injury and until a health care professional says it's OK. Children who return to play too soon - while the brain is still healing - risk a greater chance of having a second concussion. Repeat or later concussions can be very serious. They can cause permanent brain damage, affecting your child for a lifetime.
3. Tell your child's coach about any previous concussion.
Coaches should know if your child had a previous concussion. Your child's coach may not know about a concussion your child received in another sport or activity unless you tell the coach.
How can you help your child prevent a concussion or other serious brain injury?
- Ensure that they follow their coach's rules for safety and the rules of the sport.
- Encourage them to practice good sportsmanship at all times.
- Make sure they wear the right protective equipment for their activity. Protective equipment should fit properly and be well maintained.
- Wearing a helmet is a must to reduce the risk of a serious brain injury or skull fracture.
- However, helmets are not designed to prevent concussions. There is no "concussion-proof" helmet. So, even with a helmet, it is important for kids and teens to avoid hits to the head.
How can I help my child return to school safely after a concussion?
Children and teens who return to school after a concussion may need to:
- Take rest breaks as needed
- Spend fewer hours at school
- Be given more time to take tests or complete assignments
- Receive help with schoolwork
- Reduce time spent reading, writing, or on the computer
Talk with your child's teachers, school nurse, coach, speech-language pathologist, or counselor about your child's concussion and symptoms. As your child's symptoms decrease, the extra help or support can be removed gradually.
Concussion Fact Sheet for Parents
WHAT IS A CONCUSSION?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. Concussions are caused by a bump or blow to the head. Even a "ding," "getting your bell rung," or what seems to be a mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.
You can't see a concussion. Signs and symptoms of concussion can show up right after the injury or may not appear or be noticed until days or weeks after the injury. If your child reports any symptoms of concussion, or if you notice the symptoms yourself, seek medical attention right away.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF CONCUSSION?
If your child has experienced a bump or blow to the head during a game or practice, look for any of the following signs of a concussion:
SYMPTOMS REPORTED BY ATHLETE:
- Headache or "pressure" in head
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
- Concentration or memory problems
- Just not "feeling right" or is "feeling down"
SIGNS OBSERVED BY PARENTS/GUARDIANS:
- Appears dazed or stunned
- Is confused about assignment or position
- Forgets an instruction
- Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
- Moves clumsily
- Answers questions slowly
- Loses consciousness (even briefly)
- Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
Courtesy of the CDC
Original interview pieces of this article provided by Kim Phagan Hansel