Concussions in sports (especially professional, contact sports) have been all over the news, largely because of what can be accumulative effects of repeated “hits” to the head. That’s long-prompted discussion about the safety of kid athletes.
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by impact that affects brain function. A recent CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Youth Risk Behavior Survey that looked at concussion rates cited that 2.5 million high school students had at least one sports- or recreation-related concussion in the past year. One million reported having at least two concussions. At higher risk were African American and Hispanic students, who were likely to report four or more concussions versus white students, and boys in general, who were likely to report up to four or more concussions over girls. Those who played on teams in general were also at higher risk.
With increased risk of head injuries including concussions, and longer recovery times among high school athletes versus older players, there’s also the danger of returning to play too soon following injury (of any kind). An American Academy of Pediatric study reported that while 38 percent of patients who returned to the football field immediately after getting hurt had fewer balance issues, and less dizziness, they later experienced severe imbalance, and increased dizziness (as well as other concussive symptoms) after a delayed visit to the clinic.
Besides dizziness, imbalance, and (sometimes) loss of consciousness in those who are concussed, other symptoms can include amnesia, inability to concentrate, confusion, depression, excessive crying, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, irritability, light sensitivity, head pressure or headache, insomnia, ringing in the ears, seeing stars, slurred speech, plus smell or taste disorders.
Within 10 days of having a concussion, the risk is greater for another one, so coaches and parents, know the warning signs, and take action:
- Protect the head with properly-fitted, ASTM*-certified sports-specific helmets.
- Teach proper tackling in football — not “head-first” hits.
- Sit out the game if injured, get medical help, rest, and avoid activities.
- Be examined by a licensed neurologist. Obtain cognitive (memory and concentration) and neurological (balance, coordination, hearing, reflexes, strength, sensation, vision) testing, plus image (CT or MRI) scans to assess damage.
- Monitor for at least 24 hours or longer following the injury, as prescribed.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano
Sources include: www.aan.com, www.aap.org, www.cdc.gov, www.mayoclinic.org
*American Society for Testing and Materials