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Participating in sports promotes healthy development by giving kids the opportunity to engage in physical activity, learn teamwork, and focus on a goal. However, the pace and physicality of sports can present injury risks, none more concerning than concussions.

Dr. Thomas Drake, Director of Cooper’s Pediatric Concussion Program, is a regional leader in diagnosing and treating youth concussions. An experienced advisor to schools and athletic groups on the topic of concussion, Dr. Drake offers the following advice to parents.

 

Dr. Thomas Drake

1. Signs and Symptoms

Diagnosing a concussion is not easy. There is no definitive test, and the vast majority of concussions occur without loss of consciousness. Therefore, it is extremely important for parents and coaches to have a high index of suspicion for concussions when evaluating young athletes after a collision or injury.

Parents and coaches may observe that an athlete appears dazed or stunned, forgetful, confused, clumsy, or slow. Sometimes the player may have changes in mood, behavior, or personality or may be unable to remember things that happened just before or after the injury. Loss of consciousness can occur, although this is generally seen in fewer than 10% of concussions.

The most common symptoms reported by children and teens experiencing a concussion include headaches, “pressure” in the head, nausea, vomiting, balance problems, dizziness, double or blurry vision, and sensitivity to lights or loud noises; feeling sluggish, groggy, or confused; and just “not feeling right.”

 

2. Initial Evaluation

When a sign or symptom of a concussion is recognized, the first evaluation typically happens at the sporting event and includes asking the athlete about symptoms and testing the athlete’s skills.

The evaluation starts with asking about the current situation, with questions such as, “What team are we playing?”, “What is the score?”, and “What period is it?” Then a brief physical exam should be done to assess for concerning neurologic findings, vision problems, or balance problems. If a concussion is suspected, no matter how mild, the child should be removed from play.

 

3. Medical Evaluation

If a concussion is suspected, the athlete should be evaluated by a medical professional who is trained in concussion management.

This “follow-up” evaluation is important and provides an opportunity to check on any ongoing problems, discuss school reintegration, and formulate a plan for eventual return to play. Typically, this evaluation takes place across several weeks and may include a combination of therapies, school interventions, medications, and/or other treatments.

 

4. Prevention

Although there is no foolproof means of preventing concussions, many steps can be taken to help minimize the risk for youth athletes. Coaches can help by emphasizing the importance of reporting concussions and taking the necessary time to recover. Parents can help by doing the same and monitoring their young athletes for signs or symptoms that the children may or may not notice or report.

In addition, athletes must wear proper protective gear. When appropriate, it’s important to wear a helmet to lower the chances of the most serious types of brain or head injury. There is no “concussion-proof” helmet; therefore, it is important for children and teens to avoid being hit on the head.

 

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