NWPC Blog

Understanding the Impact of Concussions on Children and Adolescents

Concussions are an unfortunate risk our young athletes face, especially those who participate in ‘impact sports’ such as football, soccer, and lacrosse. Head injuries will continue to be a focal point as researchers learn more about the short-term and lasting impacts of concussions. Parents should familiarize themselves with important concussion facts, check out our infographic below to learn more.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.” Concussions can impact individuals at any age, but the effects may differ depending on the age group.

Concussions in Children & Adolescents

Research shows that concussions may affect children and adolescents differently than adults, in that brain damage caused by concussions tends to be less serious in children than adults. However, the effects of a concussion may outlast the visible symptoms of a concussion (e.g., headache, vision issues, etc.). Children may receive medical clearance before they are fully healed and resume their normal activities while they are still vulnerable for re-injury. Re-injury after a recent concussion may lead to more severe symptoms than the initial injury.

A 2011 study at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that concussions in children and teens impacted blood flow to the brain—in fact in nearly all instances of concussion blood flow to the brain decreased significantly. Researchers observed that after two weeks, 63% of the injured participants were still experiencing abnormal blood flow when compared to normal blood flow in children and adolescents. After 30 days, 33% of the children still experienced a noticeable impact to their brain blood flow.

At Wake Forest School of Medicine, researchers tracked 25 young, male football players and observed changes in their brains during the football season. The study found that, “the more impacts a player had to the head, the more changes in a part of the brain called white matter, which is made up of insulated neurons that form the basis of communication between different parts of the brain. Such changes are concerning since the white matter of the brain is still developing and evolving during this age, and changes to its normal trajectory might have lasting effects on many aspects of brain function, from cognition to personality to behavior.”

Both studies emphasize the caution children must take after experiencing a concussion, even after all visible signs have passed, as we do not yet fully understand the long-term impact of brain injuries in children and adolescents.

Concussion Signs & Symptoms

A trauma to the head may not always have obvious signs and symptoms. You can get a concussion without losing consciousness and you can even experience a concussion without a direct impact to the head, as a forceful enough blow to the body may cause a concussion.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness and trouble with balance
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, groggy or dazed
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion, inability to follow instruction
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sleeping problems
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in behavior

Signs and symptoms often appear immediately after the injury, but can continue to develop for several days after. After a trauma to the head, careful observation is critical.  If signs or symptoms worsen or don’t improve, visit an emergency room right away. It is advised to check in with a primary care provider soon after a head injury, as they can determine the best recovery and treatment plan for you.

Concussion Recovery

Following a concussion, rest is the most important step in recovery, as it allows the brain to heal. It is recommended to keep to a sleep schedule and avoid any distractions that may detract from a restful sleep.

Children and teens should return slowly to their normal activities and only after a doctor has cleared them to do so. Some children may find they are more tired than usual and should not force any activity beyond what they feel up to.

Full recovery typically takes a few weeks, though some children may experience symptoms that persist for several weeks or months. Check with a doctor to rule out Post-Concussive Syndrome. While rare, this syndrome is more likely to occur in individuals who have had more than one concussion.

Protecting Against Concussions

To protect from head injuries, wear proper protective equipment that fits appropriately. Ensure that helmets fit snugly, the chin strap is fastened, and check the label to verify that the helmet meets federal and/or voluntary safety standards. Even with protective equipment worn correctly, it’s important to remember no helmet is concussion-proof.

Talk to your child’s coaches and teachers to confirm they understand how to identify concussion signs and symptoms. Contribute to a culture of safety in sports, making it a point to follow rules, wear proper safety equipment, avoid direct hits to other players’ heads, and teach them the signs and symptoms of concussions.

While there are still many unanswered questions surrounding concussions, one thing is for certain: we all want to keep children and adolescents safe, both on and off the field.  To learn more about concussions in children and adolescents, contact NWPC.

 

5 Things Parents Need to Know About Concussions in Children and Adolescents

It’s important to understand the common facts about concussions as impact sport seasons starts up again. Our infographic highlights 5 of the most important facts about concussions to ensure your child stays safe in school sports.