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Child Concussions: How to Identify the Symptoms

Jun 02, 2012 01:19PM ● Published by Erin Frisch

Concussions

The word concussion may evoke images of hockey players or football players being knocked unconscious during a fight or by a rough tackle. However, a concussion can occur with any head injury and often without a loss of consciousness. A concussion is a temporary loss of normal brain function due to an injury. This injury could be sports related, but can also occur off the playing field through bicycle or car accidents, fistfights, and even minor falls.

Children who sustain concussions generally recover within a week or two with no lasting problems when certain precautions are taken following the injury. If a concussion goes unrecognized, however, it can cause lasting brain damage and possible disability. Be aware of these signs and symptoms that can help you determine if your child is experiencing a concussion following a head injury:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • A headache that gets worse over time
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion and/or loss of memory of events leading up to and following the injury
  • Irritability, crankiness, anxiousness, and other behavioral changes
  • Vision or eye disturbances, including dilated pupils or pupils of unequal size
  • Changes in and difficulty with coordination or balance
  • Slurred speech or saying things that don’t make sense
  • Extreme sleepiness
These symptoms may not appear initially and can develop over the first 24 to 72 hours following an injury, so be on the lookout. Any child showing these signs should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If any of the following conditions are present, the child should be taken to the emergency room immediately:
  • One pupil larger than the other (this is a sign of brain swelling)
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Difficulty waking the child
Though many kids recover quickly from concussions, some symptoms may linger for weeks or months. These include headaches, concentration problems, and memory loss. It is important to contact your child’s doctor if any symptoms persist.

In terms of treatment, depending on the severity of the concussion, the doctor may ask you to awaken your child at least once during the night for the first days to a week following the concussion. If the child is not easily awakened, this can indicate a more serious problem. Physical and mental rest are both necessary for recovery. As long as your child displays symptoms, he or she should not participate in physical activities such as sports, gym class, or recess, or in any activity involving wheels (biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, scootering). In addition, he or she should not drive, attend school, have a normal workload, or take any high-stakes tests (state testing, PSATs, SATs, etc.).

Your doctor will let you know when it is okay for your child to resume sports and other activities. Even mild concussions require a person to sit out sports games and other physical activities. Be aware that repeated concussions can result in lasting brain damage. Aside from recognizing the symptoms and getting your child to a doctor in a timely manner, the best thing you can do is make sure that proper precautions are taken to prevent concussions before they occur. This includes ensuring that appropriate safety gear is worn for sports, helmets are worn when participating in wheel activities (bicycling, rollerblading, etc.) and when skiing or snowboarding, and making sure your home is childproofed to prevent toddlers and infants from falls and bumped heads.

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