Guest column: Concussions are serious; here’s what you should know and do if one occurs
As school sports activity resumes this fall, there are several things to know and remember when it comes to dealing with possible concussions your child might suffer.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow, jolt or bump to the head or any blow to the body that makes the head and brain move back and forth quickly. The skull provides protection to the brain but is a small enclosed space — rapid back and forth motion of the brain causes bruising where the brain meets the skull bones. This rapid motion and bruising of the brain can cause tearing of brain cells, which damages the cells and creates chemical changes in the brain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all concussions are considered brain injuries and, as such, are considered serious injuries. Concussions can happen in all organized and unorganized sports or physical activities. Prevention, recognition and proper management of concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death. Parents, coaches, teachers and anyone who supervises children’s play should be familiar with how to prevent concussions, how to recognize the symptoms and what to do if a child sustains a head injury.
How can I recognize a possible concussion? Watch for and have others report a forceful bump, blow or jolt to the head or body that causes rapid movement of the head and any signs or symptoms of concussion. Those usually occur soon after the injury, but the full effect may not be noticeable at first.
What are the signs and symptoms?
• Appears stunned or dazed or is confused.
• Forgets an instruction or is unsure what to do.
• Moves clumsily, answers questions slowly.
• Loses consciousness, even for a brief time.
• Exhibits mood, behavior or personality changes.
• Can’t remember events before or after the injury.
• Complains of headache or pressure in head.
• Nausea or vomiting, balance problems or dizziness, double or blurry vision.
• Sensitive to noise and light, concentration or memory problems.
• Feeling “foggy,” “hazy” or “sluggish,” “not feeling right” or “feeling down.”
Not all concussions have all these symptoms, but any symptom should be taken seriously. The child or athlete should be repeatedly checked for signs and symptoms. Any worsening of the signs or symptoms indicates a medical emergency. The concern is a blood clot forming on the brain or bleeding in the brain. These can cause the brain to be pressed into the skull and can kill brain cells. Call 911 or take the athlete to the emergency department if concussion danger signs develop.
What are the danger signs?
• Is drowsy and difficult to awaken, has a headache that gets worse.
• Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination.
• Repeated nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, convulsions or seizures.
• Becomes increasingly confused or restless and agitated, loses consciousness.
• Unusual behavior or inability to recognize people or places.
• One eye pupil is larger than the other.
Most children and athletes recover quickly and completely from concussions, but some have symptoms for weeks or months later. The brain must have time to heal. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain has healed can slow recovery and increase the chances for long-term problems. Repeat concussions may result in permanent brain damage, so it is essential care is taken to avoid another concussion before the brain has healed from the first one.
What should you do if you suspect a child has sustained a concussion?
• Seek medical attention right away. Inform the health care provider of the cause and force of the injury, any loss of consciousness and for how long; any memory loss or seizure activity after the injury and if they have had any previous concussions.
• Keep the child out of play until a health care professional tells you it is safe to resume activities.
• Avoid activities that may cause a repeat concussion until signs and symptoms are resolved.
How can you help a child prevent a concussion or other serious brain injury?
• Wear a helmet when riding bikes, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing or any other physical activity that could result in a head injury. Helmets are not “concussion-proof,” so even with a helmet, children must be taught to avoid hits to the head.
• Teach the child to follow coaches’ safety rules and rules of the sport.
• Wear proper protective equipment, be sure the equipment fits well and is well maintained.
• Practice good sportsmanship at all times.
Ann Galloway is a certified family nurse practitioner at the Grand River Student Health Center in Parachute/Battlement Mesa.
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