Despite the fact that we do our best to keep our kiddos out of harm’s way, the truth is, accidents happen. Bumps, bruises, scrapes, and, at times, head injuries that might result from soccer practice, playing with a sibling a little too hard, or tripping and falling down a few steps are sometimes unavoidable, and they’re more common than you might think. While we can’t always prevent accidents, we can educate ourselves on symptoms and post-concussive care so that we can ensure that our children get appropriate treatment and heal properly.
To answer all of our concussion-related questions, we’re turning to the experts in the field: sports medicine specialists from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. We’ve partnered with the innovative and compassionate professionals at Lurie Children’s to make sure that you have the tools and information you need to look out for your little ones. If you’re looking for answers surrounding care after a head injury, look no further. We’re answering your most pressing questions with help from the experts at Lurie Children’s.
1. What exactly is a concussion and how do they happen?
The word “concussion” is synonymous with the more literal term “mild traumatic brain injury.” Per Dana Sheng, MD, a concussion can be caused by “either a physical trauma to the head or by forces on the body, with either case causing the head and brain to move quickly under forces of acceleration, deceleration, and/or rotation.”
According to the experts at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, millions of children in the U.S. sustain concussions every single year, which makes this prevalent issue a common one that your kiddo might face, especially as they grow and approach more adventurous pursuits like playing on the playground, riding a bike, or engaging in sports as young athletes.
2. What are some typical signs and symptoms that might indicate my child has a concussion?
If your child hit their head, they might begin to experience some common post-concussive symptoms either immediately after the incident or later on. According to Jacqueline Turner, APRN-NP, the most common symptom to be on the lookout for is a headache. In addition to a headache, some other typical symptoms that might occur include:
- change in vision or hearing
- sensitivity to light or noise
- sleep disturbances
- difficulty with attention and concentration
- mental processing
- memory and sensory changes
- changes in mood or behavior
3. If I think that my child might have a concussion, should we go to see a doctor?
If a child’s post-concussive symptoms are typical or appear mild (see list above), they should see their primary care provider within the first few days of the injury. Their primary care doctor can evaluate the child and provide guidance on symptom management and return to school and physical activity. While the symptoms listed above are expected after an injury to the head, a child should be monitored closely for symptoms that might indicate need for further imaging or medical management. Per Dr. Sheng, more concerning symptoms that would require medical attention include:
- prolonged loss of consciousness after the injury
- changing level of consciousness
- unusual behavior
- increased confusion
- restlessness or agitation
- increasing headache
- repeat vomiting
- weakness/numbness/tingling of arms and/or legs
- slurred speech
- poor balance or coordination
- unequal size of the pupils (the black part in the center of the eye)
- blurry vision or other visual changes not resolving
- inconsolable crying in infants
4. If my child is healing from a concussion, what can I do to help them recover?
Cynthia LaBella, MD, provided the post-concussive course and a brief rundown of what to expect if your child is healing from a concussion. “Immediately after the injury, there should be 24 to 48 hours of cognitive and physical rest, followed by gradual return to school and activity with increases made as tolerated by the child. Activity level should not bring on or worsen their symptoms,” she stated.
Dr. Sheng emphasized the importance of sleep and safety in the post-concussive period. “After a concussion, it is also important to reduce the risk for additional head injury. Further head injury or repeat concussion can worsen symptoms and the child’s function and significantly delay recovery. Sleep is also key to healing, and any sleep dysfunction should be addressed,” she noted.
Dr. Sheng said for the majority of concussions, symptoms completely resolve within four weeks. In 20-30% of cases, however, symptoms can persist longer than four weeks. She noted that in some cases, rehabilitation with specialists such as physical therapists (e.g. for balance), occupational therapists, speech therapists, neuropsychologists, psychotherapists, or neuro-ophthalmologists may be indicated.
5. How can we reduce the risk of concussion at home, at school, or in sports?
Both Dr. Sheng and Dr. LaBella noted that the risk of concussion can be reduced in both primary and secondary ways. In terms of primary prevention, Dr. Sheng acknowledged that in the realm of sports, modification and enforcement of rules and fair play, education of proper tackling and body checking, discouragement of aggressive playing styles, and ensuring well-fitting protective equipment like helmets can help reduce occurrence and severity of concussions.
Dr. LaBella stated that secondary prevention (reducing the risk for more severe or persistent symptoms or a longer recovery) is just as crucial as primary prevention. She stressed the importance of early removal from play after a head injury, resting from contact sports until cleared by a concussion-trained physician, and delaying return to high-risk activities or contact sports until a child is fully recovered and all symptoms have returned to pre-injury levels.
This post was in partnership with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.