CONCUSSIONS – A "Head's Up"
Young athletes who play high impact sports are prone to sports-related head injuries. Most head injuries are not serious and result in cuts, bumps and bruises. However, head injuries can involve more serious internal complications such as concussions. Concussions are brain injuries that cannot be seen on a CT scan, and don’t always cause immediate symptoms, but can still result in long term damage. So how do you know when to be concerned?
Concussions are a temporary loss of brain function, which can be mild to severe. Symptoms that are serious include loss of consciousness, amnesia, nausea and vomiting, extreme headache, poor concentration, coordination or balance, slurred speech, confusion, and sleepiness. When these symptoms occur after a head injury, seek medical attention immediately.
When no obvious symptoms are noticeable after a head injury, your son or daughter should still be monitored closely for several days. If he or she develops a headache, dizziness, vision changes, personality changes, poor concentration and forgetfulness go to a doctor for a thorough examination. The doctor may need to rule out a brain bleed, which can be detected on a CT scan.
It is important that your son or daughter is “benched” until a doctor gives clearance to return to play. The brain needs time to heal after a concussion or else it is vulnerable to further injury. If recurring, concussions can lead to permanent brain injury.
When an athlete returns to play too soon and suffers a second brain injury it can lead to “Second Impact Syndrome” and possibly cause sudden death. Because of this risk, the athlete should not be allowed to play until he or she is completely symptom free, both at rest and during exertion. An athlete who has too many concussions in too short a time may need to be “benched” for the season.
The NFL recently initiated a research focus about the long-term risk of recurring concussions. The research found that a number of former athletes suffered brain damage leading to early dementia and other neurological problems. As a result, the NFL mandates that players be completely asymptomatic and pass a series of neurologic tests before they return to play. The NFL’s new culture no longer glorifies players who play injured, and instead considers this irresponsible.
To help prevent concussions, young athletes need to wear proper equipment including helmets and to follow the coach’s rules for safety, proper technical form, and good sportsmanship. They also need to be honest about their symptoms and not feel that it is a “badge of honor” to play injured.
When your child suffers a head injury, take it seriously. Watch for symptoms that may indicate a concussion. Bring your child to the doctor for an evaluation and follow the doctor’s orders about returning to play. Remember, it is better to miss one game than to suffer a more serious injury and miss the whole season.