Concussion In Children: Symptoms, Treatment And Precautions

Concussion In Children

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“It’s just a concussion.”

We have heard that line so often in a movie or on TV that most of us believe concussion is nothing to be worried about. Well, a concussion is a mild brain injury, but there is nothing trivial about it.

75% of all traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are concussions. Any injury to the brain, including concussions, can have a significant effect on the child’s cognitive development (1) and should not be treated lightly.

MomJunction helps you learn everything you need to about concussion, what can cause it, and how you can protect your children from it.

What Is A Concussion?

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (MTDI) caused due to a strong blow, bump, or sudden jolt to the head. Also referred to as head injury in common parlay, a concussion is caused when the head collides against another object or person. The impact causes the brain to be pushed against the walls of the skull, resulting in some bruising.

While not all blows to the head lead to a concussion, vehicular crash, fall from a bike, or sports injuries can put the child at risk of it.

[ Read: Short Term Memory In Children ]

Symptoms And Signs Of Concussion In Children

So, how do you know if a blow to the head has resulted in a concussion?

If your child has a jarring neck or head, then observe and check for the following signs and symptoms that indicate a concussion.

Symptoms reported by the child Signs you should look for
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feels irritable, highly emotional
  • Drowsy or sleepy all the time; or trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Feeling lazy, slugging, and slowed down
  • Loss of consciousness, sometimes for a short period
  • Difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech, might repeat questions or words
  • Appears confused or dazed
  • Answers slowly
  • Is unable to recall events immediately before or after the fall or blow to the head
  • Is forgetful about everyday things
  • Changes in personality or behavior

Unlike common belief, a concussion does not necessarily render the child unconscious. However, this does not reduce its severity.

When to call a doctor?

In most cases, the child regains consciousness after a few minutes. But if the symptoms worsen and the child shows the following signs, take him to a doctor immediately.

  • Loses consciousness for more than a few minutes
  • One pupil is smaller than the other
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Does not recognize names or faces
  • Headaches become worse and don’t go away
  • Slurred speech
  • Increasingly restless and agitated
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Unusual behavior
  • Weakness
  • Decreased coordination

Note that children who have suffered a concussion should not play sports or indulge in any strenuous activity at least for a day. They should also stay away from physical activities including PE classes until a medical professional certifies that it is safe to do so.

[ Read: Mental Retardation In Children ]

Concussion Diagnosis

Doctors will ask you about the nature of injury – when and how it happened and how the child reacted to it. The doctor may also ask the child a few questions to test his or her memory, consciousness, and concentration. If need be, the doctor may recommend diagnostic tests and procedures such as:

  • Physical examination
  • Neurological tests to check balance, nerve function, reflexes, and coordination
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computerized tomography scan (CT Scan)

As a standard procedure, every athlete undergoes a baseline concussion test to determine normal brain functioning and information processing abilities. If the child has injured the head during a sporting event, an athletic sports coach or trainer will check for signs or symptoms of a concussion. This procedure is called sideline concussion testing.

The results of the baseline tests and the sideline tests are often compared to determine if there is a change in the brain functioning post injury.

Treatment For Concussion In Children

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for concussion. The treatment depends on the severity of injury, symptoms, and behavior displayed by the child. If a concussion is severe, the child may be hospitalized. Otherwise, doctors would recommend a home care regimen that includes:

Physical and mental rest

Post concussion rest implies no sports, exercise, or other strenuous activities. The child should also be in a stress-free environment, and any triggers that can irritate the child or make him emotional must be removed.

The child must not indulge in anything beyond basic everyday activities so that his body and mid get plenty of rest. Also, a good-to-go certificate from a doctor is necessary before the child is allowed to get back to sports or other physical activities.

The child should also avoid cognitive (thinking) activities such as schoolwork, games, or use of gadgets including TV and cell phones. Using devices or watching TV can make the symptoms worse.

[ Read: Brain Gym Exercises For Kids ]

Healthy diet

In addition to getting plenty of rest, the child should have a healthy diet and drink a lot of liquids that do not contain added sugar, caffeine, and preservatives.

A soothing environment

A chaotic environment can worsen the concussion symptoms in children. While the child is recovering, make sure that the ambiance is soothing and calm, without any trigger elements such as loud noises and bright lights.

The doctor may recommend the use of pain killers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or even paracetamol in case of headaches. Also, the child must not return to school or physical activities while still on pain medication.

Post Concussion Syndrome In Children

One of the complications of concussion is the post-concussion syndrome (PCS), due to which concussion symptoms such as a headache and dizziness last anywhere between a few weeks and months. While the exact cause of this disorder is not known, theories suggest that chemical imbalance or nerve cell damage could result in PCS.

Treatment of PCS may vary depending on the symptoms, such as migraine, depression, forgetfulness, and decreased concentration, shown by the child. In most cases, the symptoms of PCS last no longer than six months. Only one in ten people have the symptoms for a year or more, according to a research (2).

Migraine medications and antidepressants, among other medications, may be prescribed to treat PCS in some patients.

How To Prevent A Concussion?

The simple answer to this question is: prevent injuries to prevent concussion. But is that entirely possible? Can you stop the kid from playing a sport or riding a bike? Not really! What you can do though is minimize the chances of an injury and make it less dangerous. Here is how:

  • Use proper safety gear when playing sports such as soccer, football, roller skating, baseball, etc.
  • Use a helmet when riding a bike, no matter how far or near you are going.
  • Encourage the child to always play by the rules.
  • Check the play area for objects that can cause injuries or strong blows to the head before letting the children go there.
  • Teach children to use proper sporting techniques that eliminate the chances of a traumatic brain injury.

[ Read: Brain Foods For Children ]

Child-proof the home and the areas surrounding it to minimize the likelihood of serious injury to the child. Most importantly, teach the child to be careful when playing outdoors or indoors.

Returning To A Normal Routine

If your child has had a concussion, you might wonder when the child can return to a normal routine. Well, there is no set time for returning to school or sports after a concussion. It depends on how severe the concussion is and how well the child is responding to post-concussion care and treatment.

It is best to consult your doctor and get a personalized plan to ease back into a routine as the symptoms fade and the condition of the child improves. The child may get impatient and restless due to prolonged periods of rest and inaction.

But rushing the transition back to a normal routine can make things worse and extend the period of recovery. Here are a few tips to take it slow.

  • Introduce light physical and cognitive activities, such as a walk for 15 minutes, every day after the symptoms have decreased.
  • Increase the amount of physical and cognitive activity in small amounts, say five minutes a day, as long as the symptoms do not resurface or increase.
  • Slowly increase the time spent on school-specific activities such as reading or assignments. At the same time, you may have to coordinate and seek the school’s support to adjust the child’s timetables during his first few days at school after the concussion.
  • Talk to the school such that the child gets to sit during the PE classes during the first few weeks after the concussion.

When it comes to a child, remember that no concussion can be considered as ‘mild’, especially because concussion in children can impair brain functioning long after the child has recovered (3). So take the child to a doctor for a proper diagnosis at the first signs or symptoms. Early detection and care can help control and decrease the symptoms sooner, enabling the child to get back to a normal routine quickly and easily.

[ Read: General Safety Rules For Kids ]

You wouldn’t want your child to stay home and get bored for weeks or months, do you?

Have any tips on how to prevent concussions in kids? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari is a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she uses to understand people better. This skill also helps her write better articles about kids and their behavior. She is meticulous in her research and gives you information that could be the ultimate help you’ll need in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and coffee addict, Sagari puts her mind and soul into whatever she does. During her free time, you'll find her either rescuing a sick/injured animal with a friend, or glued to her couch watching Sons Of Anarchy on Netflix.
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