You might think that concussions only occur when someone has been knocked unconscious. However, parents and coaches of young athletes should know that concussions can happen with any head injury and it doesn’t necessarily mean a blackout or loss of consciousness.
The brain, cushioned by spinal fluid and made of soft tissue, is encased in our hard, protective skulls. However, in cases of falls or injuries, it can move around the inside and bang against the sides. When this happens, blood vessels will tear. And a concussion occurs when the nerves in the brain are injured.
In sports, concussions are often caused by a jolt, bump, or blow to the head or even a fall. Many think that concussions only happen when you get knocked out. However, many do not and may go unnoticed. Remember that all concussions should be taken seriously because they are injuries to the brain that can affect young athletes physically, emotionally, cognitively, and can be life threatening.
Concussions fall into five clusters, and if the child is suffering from any of these symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately.
1. Physical signs – Loss of consciousness or amnesia, loss of vision
2. Cognitive impairments – prolonged reaction time
3. Sleep disturbance – sleeping longer or shorter than usual, drowsiness, or insomnia
4. Behavioral changes – more emotional, depressed, or irritable
<5. Symptoms – loss of balance, sensitivity to light or noise, visual problems, vomiting, nausea, headaches, dizziness, unequal pupils, convulsions, unusual stiffness in the neck area, weakness in either arm
Emotional – uncontrollable or involuntary laughing or crying
Cognitive – difficulty in remembering or concentrating, feeling “foggy.”
Suspected concussion during a game
The following are signs of a potential concussion that require immediate removal from play:
• Loss of consciousness
• Lying motionless on the ground
• Slow to get up after falling to the ground
• Player has labored movement
• Player has lost balance or coordination
• Player has a loss of memory or post-traumatic amnesia
• Player has a facial injury on top of exhibiting all the other signs
If at any point of the game or practice, you suspect that an athlete has suffered a concussion, they should stop playing immediately and be checked by the doctor on the sidelines or taken to the emergency room.
The athlete you suspect has sustained a concussion should be monitored in the next 24 to 48 hours to see if they show the symptoms or worsen. Follow these recommendations:
• Do not use aspirin or ibuprofen for headaches.
• Use ice packs on the head or neck for the pain
• Let them sleep in a cool and quiet room
• Encourage the child to get plenty of rest and eat light
• Do not let the child go back to playing or any strenuous activities.
Symptoms of concussions don’t always show up right away, and this is why concussions are referred to as the “invisible” injury. Underreporting concussions can be dangerous or potentially life-threatening. A study showed that only 50% of high school athletes reported that they were feeling the symptoms of a concussion for fear of being taken out of the game or not being allowed to play anymore. It is the responsibility of parents and coaches to educate their young athletes about what concussions are, when and how they can happen, the symptoms, and the potential threats if not observed or treated right away.