The Doctor is In

Preventing and Treating Concussions in Youth Sports

by Dr. Sachin Shah

The issue of concussions in professional football players has been in the news lately, but children who are involved in sports are at risk too—half of childhood concussions are sports-related.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt or blow to the head. It can change the way the brain normally works. While some people recover quickly, others can have symptoms that last for days, weeks or even longer.

Protective equipment can help prevent concussions in young athletes. Helmets, padding, shin guards and eye and mouth guards should fit properly, be well maintained, and be worn correctly every time the child plays.
If your child plays a team sport, find out whether the league, school or district has a concussion policy, which would include when an athlete can safely return to play after a concussion.

Be sure your child knows he /she shouldn’t continue to play after an injury. Be aware of the pressures that may face a child from teammates and coaches, who may wrongly believe it shows strength and courage to play injured. Any child who suffers a concussion should be removed from play and seen by a medical professional familiar with concussions and should not return until the doctor determines the child is symptom-free. If a teen returns to play and experiences another concussion before the brain has recovered from the first one, it can slow recovery, or increase the risk for long-term problems such as brain damage. Signs and symptoms of a concussion include:
• Brief loss of consciousness (blacking out)
• Headache
• Sleepiness or difficulty falling asleep
• Feeling confused and dazed
• Trouble concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
• Dizziness
• Slurred speech or saying things that don’t make sense
• Nausea and vomiting
• Feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason
• Difficulty with coordination or balance (such as being able to catch a ball)
• Trouble remembering things, such as what happened right before or after the injury
• Blurred vision

These symptoms may not appear right away—they can develop over 24 to 72 hours. A doctor diagnosing a concussion will ask about how and when the injury occurred, and which symptoms the child is experiencing. The doctor may also ask questions to assess your child’s memory, consciousness and concentration, such as who they are, where they are and what day it is. The doctor also is likely to test balance, coordination, reflexes and coordination. Sometimes a CT scan of the brain or an MRI is ordered to rule out bleeding or other serious injury to the brain.

When recovering from a concussion, your child should get plenty of sleep at night, rest during the day and avoid activities that are physically demanding or that require a lot of concentration, such as spending a lot of time on video games or on the computer. While most children recover quickly from concussions, it’s possible to experience symptoms such as headaches, memory loss or having trouble concentrating for several weeks or even months. If symptoms persist, tell your child’s doctor.

Sachin Shah, MD, MBA, FAAEM, Medical Director Emergency Services at Nyack Hospital shares what you need to know about concussions and how to keep your children safe.