10 Things You Need to Know About Childhood Concussions

You watch your child in slow motion, falling backward towards the ground. “THUD!” It’s your worst nightmare; your child has smashed their head on the pavement. What do you do? How are you, as a parent, supposed to know the difference between a slight bump on the head and a serious concussion? It can be hard to determine the severity of a head injury, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

If your child has hit his or her head, take them to the doctor right away. If it turns out that they do indeed have a concussion, this article will serve to answer all of your questions about childhood concussions.

10 What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a serious brain injury that can affect the way your child’s brain functions. Concussions are typically caused by a blow to the head, such as a fall or coming in contact with a hard object. In children, they can also be caused when the head or upper body are shaken rapidly. Despite popular belief, not all concussions result in loss of consciousness. So, if your child hits their head hard, but remains conscious you should take them to a doctor as a concussion could still have occurred.

Concussions occur because the brain is made of a gelatin-like substance. Typically if you bump your head slightly, the cerebrospinal fluid in your skull will cushion your brain and prevent any damage. However, if an injury occurs with enough force the brain may slide around and hit the sides of your skull, which is when serious damage can occur. A severe brain injury can cause the brain to bleed, which can present as prolonged drowsiness or confusion.

9 What are the Symptoms?

The most common symptoms of a concussion are headache, loss of memory and confusion. If your child has loss of memory it will typically surround the event that resulted in the concussion, rather than more serious memory loss. Additional concussion symptoms include:

  • Headache or severe pressure in the head
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Confusion or Amnesia
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Slow response to questions
  • Fatigue

Some of the above symptoms may be immediate, but others may only affect your child hours or even days after the injury. Keep an eye out for any delayed symptoms your child may have, such as difficulty concentrating or remembering things, irritability, light and noise sensitivity, trouble sleeping, and/or signs of depression.

8 Are There Child-Specific Concussion Symptoms?

It can be difficult for even doctors to diagnose a concussion, as symptoms can be subtle. Some symptoms may not even present themselves for days or weeks after the incident.

Since children are not always completely aware of what is going on with their bodies, especially in their heads, it can be even more difficult to diagnose. If your child has experienced a head injury but is unable to understand how to describe their symptoms, look for the following:

  • Excessive crying and/or irritability
  • Appearing dazed or confused
  • Tiring more easily than normal
  • Unsteady walking
  • Change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Decreased interest in their favorite toys

7 When Should We See a Doctor?

Children’s heads, specifically infants, are far more fragile than adults, so it’s best to visit the doctor if your child experiences any significant trauma to the head. If your child does not exhibit any of the symptoms listed above their injury may be mild and medical attention may be unnecessary. Again, better to err on the side of caution.

For a minor head injury, you can wait to see your doctor for one or two days. However, if your child presents any of the following symptoms seek immediate medical attention:

  • Constant vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A worsening headache
  • Changes in coordination; such as falling or stumbling often
  • Changes in behavior; such as irritability or constant crying
  • Confusion; such as the inability to recognize people or things they know
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Extremely dilated pupils or pupils of different sizes
  • Large bumps or bruises on the head, specifically other than the forehead. Bumps and bruises on the temple or back of the head are especially worrisome in infants under twelve months of age

If any of these symptoms present, it is crucial to visit a doctor, immediately.

6 How Do Doctor’s Test For Concussion?

Your doctor will obviously ask you and if possible your child if they are experiencing any of the symptoms of concussion listed above. In addition, they will likely also perform a series of tests to determine the severity of the injury:

  • Neurological Exam: Your doctor will check your child’s hearing, vision, strength, sensation, balance, coordination, and reflexes
  • Cognitive Test: If your child is old enough your doctor will also perform a cognitive exam, which tests their memory and concentration
  • Brain Imaging: In some cases, brain imaging may be recommended, such as if your child is experiencing severe headache, seizures or repeated vomiting. This can determine whether or not the injury is severe enough to have caused bleeding in the skull
  • Observation: Lastly, your doctor may suggest an overnight stay in the hospital to monitor your child’s symptoms

5 Should I Keep My Child Awake?

A commonly held assumption is that you should not let a person with a concussion fall asleep. This is actually not always the case. If your child is old enough to tell you what is going on in their body (pre-teen to teenager) it is okay to let them sleep. However if your infant or toddler has a concussion you should try to keep them awake since they cannot tell you if they are feeling dizzy or nauseous.

Sleep is incredibly beneficial for the body, especially initially following an injury, as this is when the most healing takes place. However, in the case of concussions, you will want to consult a doctor to ensure that sleep is in fact, safe for your little one.

4 How Can I Help My Child Recover?

Once you have seen a doctor and verified that your child has a concussion there are a few things you can do to help them recover. Physical and mental rest are crucial as your child’s body works to repair the injury to their brain.

  • Physical Rest: It is important to restrict your child’s physical activity until the concussion is completely healed. You want to reduce the stress placed on your child’s brain as it heals to decrease the likelihood of reinjuring the brain or worsening the existing damage. When your child’s symptoms subside they can gradually resume their physical activities. However, if any symptoms reoccur such as headache or dizziness, you will need to pull back until they subside again.
  • Mental Rest: Since your child obtained an injury to the head, it is important that they rest their mind as well as their body. Help them to avoid any cognitive activity that could put stress on their brain. Some strenuous mental activities include reading or doing schoolwork, listening to loud music and looking at any type of screens such as a computer, phone, video game, or television. As your child’s symptoms subside they can ease back into their mental activities, but keep an eye out for any symptoms that may reoccur.

3 How Will I Know When My Child Is Back to Their Old Self?

The exact moment a concussion is gone is hard to pinpoint, so you will need to rely a lot on your doctor’s opinion. There is no test that can determine with certainty whether or not your child has a concussion. Unfortunately, this means recovering from a concussion can be an instance of trial and error.

If your child hasn’t complained or shown any symptoms for a few days, you can slowly reintroduce some mental and physical activities as mentioned previously. However, if you see signs of struggle, or your child complains of a headache or dizziness, stop the activity immediately and continue to rest.

Before your child returns to any sports or rough play you will definitely need to get your doctor’s approval. Beginning physical activity before a concussion is properly healed can lead to serious complications for your child. Regardless of your child’s restlessness and desire to get back to school or the soccer field, hold your ground. Your child’s safety is dependent upon you at this point and in the case of concussions, the more cautious, the better.

2 What are the Possible Complications of a Concussion?

Any trauma to the brain can result in complications even after the symptoms of concussion have subsided. It’s possible that your child may develop secondary problems associated with their concussion. Your child may experience post-traumatic syndrome with delayed symptoms such as headaches, vertigo and cognitive difficulties that last months after the concussion occurred. Potentially severe complications include:

  • Epilepsy: Unfortunately, if your child experiences a concussion they are two times as likely to develop epilepsy within five years of the injury.
  • Second Impact Syndrome: If your child experiences a secondary concussion before the initial concussion has fully healed, they can experience rapid brain swelling, which can sometimes be fatal.

Every concussion is different and although symptoms typically subside within a few weeks, some children may require longer recovery time. It’s important to take your child’s concussion seriously and meticulously monitor them until all symptoms are gone.

1 How Can I Prevent My Child from Experiencing a Concussion?

It’s inevitable that your child will fall as they learn to stand, walk and run. Unfortunately, you can’t be there to catch them each time they stumble. However, there are a few things you can do for your child to prevent the likelihood of a serious concussion:

  • Baby Proof Your Home: As your child learns to walk you should baby proof your home to minimize possible dangers to their head. This could be as simple as placing some cushioning on sharp edges around the house, like coffee tables and chairs
  • Use Proper Car Seats: Many head injuries occur in children that are secured in improper car seats for their age and weight. Make sure your child is in the proper seat, secured appropriately to prevent a head injury in the case of a car accident
  • Make Sure Equipment Fits Properly: As your child grows up and begins playing sports and riding a bike you will want to ensure that their helmet and protective gear fits properly. An improperly fitted helmet can be the difference between a light tumble and a serious brain injury
  • Promote Safe Play: Children are naturally rambunctious and some will play very rough with their friends. It’s important to teach your child the boundaries of safe play to prevent a serious injury

It can be tempting to become a helicopter parent that hovers around your child, trying to protect them at every corner. Like it or not, you can’t be around all the time and your child should learn how to be independent. Sometimes independence ends up in an injury. As long as you consult with a doctor and keep a mental checklist of concussion symptoms, a head injury can be a scary, but small blimp on the radar of your child’s life.


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