Concussions have been in the news a lot lately. Stories of professional athletes (particularly football players) who have been permanently disabled in some way have recently received a lot of attention. Mattew Turton’s blog on Breakthroughs in Learning gives updates and information so adults and parents can know what signs to look for their kids are injured.
Concussions don’t occur just from sports injuries. They can happen during play, heading a soccer ball, or any head contact occurrence. The symptoms of concussion are not necessarily obvious right away and children will often mask symptoms in order to continue playing. Concussion aftereffects can be long term and seriously affect comfort, functioning and learning. Personality changes and mood disorders can also result.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is the result of the impact of the brain against the skull. It is similar to a bruise on an arm or leg, except it is contained within the skull. Any bump, jar, blow or hard contact with the skull can cause a concussion. Unlike a bruise on the outside of the body, there is no expansion room for swelling within the skull, and brain injury can quickly escalate. The injury slows down neurological processes. Simple tasks may become difficult and reaction time and memory also slow down.
60% of college soccer players and 10% of all high school athletes have suffered concussions. Currently there is a large body of research studies looking at the effect of sub-concussive events. These are much harder to detect as there are few symptoms and are often re-occurring in sports because they are often not recognized. Their total effect can be even larger than a concussion.
A child does not have to pass out to sustain a concussion. Most are not accompanied by unconsciousness. Early symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and memory loss. Children may feel disoriented or “loopy”. During sports activities, many children want to continue play. If this is allowed, they must be carefully observed for any unusual signs. If they appear disoriented, uncoordinated or unable o make quick, rational decisions, they need to leave the game and be examined by a doctor immediately.
Later appearing symptoms can include light-headedness, poor concentration, headaches, neck pain, fatigue and complaints of sounds being too loud or lights being too bright. For children, controlling emotions may become difficult and irritability increases. These symptoms may take hours or days to emerge and intensify over time. Children with co morbid conditions, such as learning disabilities or ADHD, may present with exacerbated symptoms.
Minor symptoms may be well treated by and managed through the child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor. Major symptoms may need emergency care, especially if they present later. Some examples include seizures, long term vomiting, and intense memory loss or confusion.
Treatment varies depending on the symptom and intensity of the concussion. Children need rest (out of school) to allow the brain to gradually return to a normal state. This can take weeks or months. Doctor’s orders must be followed for complete healing to happen. Children may be able to return to school only gradually (a half day or less at first). They may fatigue easily and lose focus quickly. The best procedure is slow and easy.
Most concussion effects are temporary and will eventually disappear. In some cases, however, speech therapy, educational therapy, cognitive therapy, counseling, or other services may be needed during a recovery period.
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