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Blowing the whistle on youth concussions

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital August 12, 2014 General Wellness

In recent years, concussions have come to the forefront of athletic safety discussions, and rightfully so. A study by the journal Neurology found that former National Football League players were four times more likely to die of Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's disease. Players specifically in speed positions, like quarterback or running back, had even higher odds of being affected.

But you don't have to be a professional athlete to be affected by a concussion or head injury. Young athletes can suffer from them, too. This school year, it's important for parents, coaches, trainers and other school staff to be able to recognize the symptoms of a concussion and treat it appropriately.

Symptoms of a concussion

Although the symptoms of a concussion are usually the same, the severity of these symptoms can vary.

"Just as every person is unique, so is every concussion," explains Cynthia Simonds, PsyD and Director of Bryn Mawr Rehab Psychology Associates in Malvern. "The symptoms will differ in severity, frequency, and duration for each individual."

If you've witnessed a player of child fall and hit their head, keep an eye out for a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Excessive fatigue or sleepiness
  • Vision issues (blurry or double vision, discomfort)
  • Dizziness, motion sickness, or balance issues
  • Cognitive symptoms (amnesia, decreased attention, difficulty problem solving)
  • Emotional symptoms (irritability, sadness or depression, anxiety, anger)
  • Ringing in the ears

If you notice these symptoms, it's time to call time out. Take players out of the game or bring kids inside for a break and call your doctor.

"If an athlete is showing signs of a concussion, they need to be pulled out of the game immediately following a concussion for evaluation and monitoring," says Dr. Simonds. "Even if they are feeling better physically, it's not safe for athletes to get back to practice or back into a game until they've been medically cleared by a doctor following a head injury."

Side effects and treatments for concussion

If an athlete or child does end up suffering a concussion, remember: rest is best. Avoid over-stimulating environments, especially those with bright lights or loud noises. In the days following the injury, put the cell phone and computer aside for a couple of days and take some time off of school or work. Giving your brain time to heal from a literal 'shake-up' will allow it to heal more quickly.

Short-term side effects of a concussion will usually subside after the first week, but some symptoms like headache, fatigue, and slow mental processing might last longer. Ongoing monitoring and treatment can make it easier for athletes to get back on the field more quickly, but there are some instances when it simply isn't safe to get back in the game, particularly for players who have a history of concussions.

"Second impact syndrome is a serious condition that occurs when an injured brain sustains a second concussion within a very short period of time," explains Dr. Simonds. "A second injury can result in a massive brain swelling and have serious results, including death or very serious disabilities."

If your player hasn't been medically cleared to be back on the field or has a history of concussions or other head injuries, consider keeping them off the field. The severity and long-term effects of concussions are most serious when an injury isn't given the right amount of time to heal.