Concussions are a serious injury, especially when they affect someone with a developing brain. That's why those who experience youth concussions should be cared for properly and given time to heal. If you suspect your child has a concussion or another sports injury, an orthopedic specialist can help with diagnosing their condition.
What is a concussion? It's not just taking a hard hit to the head. Technically, it is a brain injury resulting from a hit, bump or a jolt to the head or another part of the body that affects the head.
Youth concussions are a predictable risk for those who play sports like volleyball and baseball, though they can result from car accidents, bike wrecks, fights or even more innocuous experiences. Find out what to do if you suspect your loved one has a youth concussion.
What kind of injuries commonly lead to youth concussions?
A concussion can be diagnosed after someone has any sort of contact with the head or jarring movement to the body. There are many ways a person can experience a concussion and these can occur in sports or everyday life. Concussion can occur when a person's head is hit by:
- Another person
- An object
- The ground
A person may have also have been hit in the lower body or checked into boards — in a sport like hockey — creating a situation where their head and neck are whipped in different directions.
Some common misconceptions about concussions exist: 1) The head needs to hit or be hit something and 2) A person only experiences a concussion if they get knocked unconscious. It can occur any time the brain gets jostled inside the head.
There really is not one particular way to develop a concussion. While youth concussions usually aren't life threatening, the symptoms can be serious and long-lasting.
What are the symptoms of concussions?
Symptoms of youth concussions can very quite a bit and may not show up immediately after an even that causes them. According to the Centers for Disease Control, you may observe some symptoms and others may be reported.
Potential observed symptoms include:
- Trouble with recall around the time of the event
- Dazed or stunned demeanor
- Clumsy movement
- Slow response to questions
- Loss of consciousness
- Exhibits changes in mood, behavior or personality
Potential reported symptoms:
- Headache or pain in head
- Nauseated feeling or vomiting
- Problems with balance or vision
- Light or noise sensitivity
- Foggy or groggy feeling
- Confusion, lack of concentration or trouble with recall
- Other generalized unpleasant or "off" feelings
Symptoms may occur in different clusters and may take hours or days to show up. Continue to monitor your child or loved one for several days after an event that may have caused a head injury.
How are youth concussions diagnosed and treated?
Besides a physical exam and report of symptoms, a patient with a potential youth concussion may undergo a cognitive test to make a diagnosis. Some areas that your doctor may test include:
- Vision and hearing
- Strength and sensation
- Balance and coordination
One cognitive test is the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT5). The SCAT5 is a form of cognitive testing that can help determine a patient’s functional level as well as their symptoms. The form comes in two levels — a pediatric form and a form for patients 12 years and older.
The most important treatment for concussions is rest. That includes rest from sports and physical activities, as well as things that require concentration and focus and mental exertion. That may mean restricting screen time, homework, reading and more. Returning to sports may take the most time.
Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter medications for headaches or other pain symptoms.
Talk to your sports medicine specialist about how to ramp up and return to physical and mental activities.
How long does recovery take?
The recovery from a youth concussion varies from person to person. It may depend on the injury, as well as the health and medical history of the patient. A return to sport document is now required for all schools in the state of Illinois. Once a patient is asymptomatic, they may begin this process, which gradually returns a patient to school and then sport.
Patients who experience symptoms over a long period of time may be referred to neurology and neuropsychology specialists to help them treat the symptoms and return to them back to activities.
Some patients may wonder why, if they are feeling better, they can't just go back to sports and other activities right away. Patients need to follow protocol to allow their brain to heal before putting themselves in a position to suffer another brain injury. Subsequent concussions in a short period of time can lengthen the recovery period and can cause permanent damage to the brain. Humans only get one brain, so it should be protected!