Keeping Your Child's Brain Safe from Concussions
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Keeping Your Child's Brain Safe from Concussions

For parents, guardians, and anyone charged with looking after kids, safety is always a priority. At or near the top of every list of safety concerns should be concussions. 

A type of traumatic brain injury, concussions can occur from a blow to the head or even the body. Any type of impact that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull can cause a concussion.

When the brain gets rattled around, brain tissue can stretch, damaging brain cells. The damage can make it difficult for the cells to function properly. And because the brain is essentially the body’s control center, the effects of a concussion can be far-reaching. 

Some people (less than 10%) who suffer a concussion may lose consciousness, making it obvious that something’s amiss in the brain. But, for the remaining 90%, the symptoms of a concussion may be very subtle and may not even show up as much two days after the event that caused it.

Some common, immediate symptoms of concussion are:

  • Amnesia. Some people have memory loss of the moments just before the hit or injury.
  • Feeling disoriented or confused. Concussion can cause an immediate change in mental status.
  • Losing consciousness. 
  • Vomiting. Throwing up right after a hit to the head is a red flag for concussion.

Other symptoms that may happen quickly or appear later:

  • Changes in mood, such as feeling irritable, anxious, or overly emotional
  • Cognitive trouble, such as feeling foggy and troubles with memory and/or focus
  • Dizziness, especially that which feels like motion sickness
  • Fatigue, and a general feeling of sluggishness, especially after a long day.
  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Severe headache, accompanied by nausea and light sensitivity
  • Light sensitivity without a headache
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Nausea, can last for a few days or even weeks
  • Sleeping problems, including having trouble falling and staying asleep or sleeping more than usual
  • Blurry vision  

Because very young children can’t always express what they’re feeling, it’s important to keep an eye out for the following symptoms that may indicate a concussion: 

  • Lack of interest in favorite toys, games or activities
  • Excessive crying
  • Irritability or general sense of dis-ease
  • Dazed appearance
  • Vomiting
  • Change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Altered or lack of coordination and balance
  • General lack of energy

If you suspect a child has a concussion, it’s important to see a medical professional for an evaluation and to ensure a more serious injury hasn’t occurred.

As for treatment, rest is essential to helping the brain to heal.

Concussion recovery times vary from person to person and injury to injury. Healing may take weeks, months or even a year depending on the severity of the injury. Throughout this period, it is essential your child refrains from sports or roughhousing, which may contribute to further damage (and an even longer recovery period).

Your child’s doctor will work with you to establish a schedule and plan for resuming normal activities—including school—and may advise you on limiting screen time and restricting driving if your child has a license.

If your child is involved in sports, ask for written instructions regarding their return to practice and play and share this information with their coaches, as well as the school nurse.

Of course, the best approach to brain safety for people of all ages is prevention.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Vermont recommends taking the following precautions:

Buckle up. Everyone in a vehicle should wear a seat belt. Children under 12 should always sit in the back seat. Infants, toddlers and children – according to their weight – should use child safety seats or booster seats

Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Ever.

Wear a helmet Helmets should be worn in all action sports like, biking, skiing/snowboarding, skate boarding, lacrosse, roller blading, etc. It is also important that they fit properly. For tips on helmet safety and fit for a variety of activities, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Heads Up” page.

Avoid falls Unnecessary risks lead to accidents. Remove tripping hazards. Keep pathways clear. Avoid or limit alcohol intake. Get your eyes checked regularly. Immediately clean spilled liquids, grease or food. Use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower.  Make sure your home is well-lit to avoid tripping.

Make your home safer Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows. Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.

Exercise Studies have shown the more you keep your muscles toned, the less likely you are to lose your balance and fall.

 

Judy K. Orton, MD, FAAP is a member of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s pediatric care team.

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