Concussion for Parents
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that causes chemical changes to the brain. It can also result in damage to brain cells. A concussion happens when an injury, such as a blow or bump to the head, forces the head and brain to move back and forth rapidly. Children and teens, especially those who are physically active, are at higher risk for concussion than adults.
It’s not always obvious when someone gets a concussion, as most concussions happen without the person losing consciousness, and the signs can be subtle.
Know the Symptoms
Concussion symptoms can appear right away, or they can take hours or sometimes days to show up. Seek medical care immediately after a head injury, especially if your child shows any of the following symptoms:
- Answers questions slowly
- Confusion or dazed appearance
- Convulsions or seizures
- Difficulty recognizing familiar people or places
- Dizziness or balance problems
- Drowsiness or not waking up
- Headache that gets steadily worse
- Inability to remember what caused the injury or what happened before or after the event
- Loss of consciousness, even if brief
- Nausea or vomiting
- One pupil that appears larger than the other
- Slurred speech
- Tingling or numbness
Continue to monitor your child closely in the days after the injury. Visit your healthcare provider if your child shows or reports any of the following:
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
- Feeling nervous or sad or getting emotional easily
- Feeling tired, sluggish or groggy
- General state of not feeling right
- Having trouble focusing or concentrating
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Vision problems
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask questions about how the injury happened and what symptoms are present, as well as perform a physical exam to test balance and coordination. He or she may also administer a memory test. Concussions don’t show up on MRIs or CT scans, but your provider might order one to look for other problems if symptoms are severe.
Many schools and youth sports leagues use baseline concussion tests to check memory, attention and thinking speed under normal circumstances. Healthcare providers can then use the results of these tests after a concussion to help with treatment and recovery.
After a mild concussion is diagnosed, your provider will give you a recovery plan to help your child heal. This includes:
- Rest: For the first few days after the concussion, keep your child home from school and have him or her relax and get plenty of sleep. Your child should avoid all physical activity and screens, as watching TV, playing video games and looking at a phone can trigger symptoms.
- Light activity: After a few days of rest, your child should be able to return to school, although it might be a good idea to start with shorter days or less homework. He or she can also gradually do more activities, like watching a movie or walking a block or two. However, all activities that could cause another head injury should be avoided.
- Moderate activity: After about a week, if your child’s symptoms are gone or nearly gone, it’s okay to return to most normal activities. But your child should continue to avoid sports and other strenuous activities.
- Regular activity: About a month after the injury, if symptoms have disappeared completely, your child can return to all normal activities, with the exception of sports. Let your pediatrician guide your decision about when it’s safe for student athletes to return to more strenuous physical activity. This helps prevent second impact syndrome, which occurs when you sustain a second head injury before the first one has healed. While rare, permanent brain damage or death can result from second impact syndrome.
People who have had a concussion are more susceptible to getting another one. Take these precautions to help prevent your child from receiving additional head injuries:
- Stay informed about the rules your child’s teams have in place to prevent head injuries, such as limits on tackling in football.
- Have your child wear a helmet for appropriate activities, including riding a bike, using a scooter and skateboarding.
- Encourage your child to tell you immediately if he or she gets another head injury or develops symptoms of a concussion.
Find a Baptist Health provider, and be prepared when concussions occur by knowing where to find the closest Baptist Health emergency room.
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