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Young Athletes at Risk for Concussions

If your child plays an organized sport, you know the importance of wearing a helmet. But as the new school year gets underway and fall sports kick into high gear, new reports show your child's risk of getting a concussion are higher than ever before. Do you know what signs and symptoms to look for if your child suffers a head injury?

A study released by the journal Pediatrics in August 2010 found the number of children seeking medical attention due to sports-related head injuries has doubled from 2000 to 2005, with 40% of these children being between the ages of 8 and 13. Alarmingly, the number of concussions reported among kids ages 14 to 19 jumped 200 percent in the same time span. In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3.6 million athletes of all ages report symptoms of concussions each year.

Why the increase? Have sports gotten rougher, or have coaches and parents just become more aware of head injuries? The answer is both. Part of this dramatic increase stems from the fact that sports are becoming more intense than in years past, in both practice and competitions. Parents and coaches have also become more aware of brain injuries and their symptoms, making it more common for children to be sent to the hospital. And more children and teenagers are getting involved in sports than ever before, with the National Federation of State High School Associations reporting that almost 7.6 million students play high school sports. All of these reasons combined contribute to the increase in reported concussions.

Spotlight on Head Injuries
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indentified football as the sport with the most head injuries, accounting for 6 out of every 10 reported cases. Soccer, hockey, and lacrosse are also considered sports with a high concussion or head injury rate.

A concussion is a head injury that causes bruising to the brain. Concussions do not cause bleeding of the brain or structural damage to the skull, and can occur with or without loss of consciousness. The AAP uses a grading scale to determine the severity, with a grade one concussion being considered a mild injury that doesn't knock the child out, to a grade three that results in loss of consciousness and memory loss.

Sustaining a concussion is a serious matter at any age, but children are especially susceptible to serious complications because their brains are still developing. Second impact syndrome, when the child sustains a second concussion before the first has completely healed, is one of the most serious risks that a child athlete faces.

If a child sustains a hard hit, he should be removed from the game and screened for a potential concussion. The King-Devick test is a simple, remove-from-play sideline test that can be administered by coaches and parents to help aid in the detection of head trauma and determine whether a player should return to play.

All that is needed is a timer (such as on a smartphone) and a pre-printed worksheet. The player is asked to read a series of numbers from left to right as fast as he can. A concussed individual will take several seconds longer to read them than a non-concussed player. Read more about the King-Devick test and find pre-printed worksheets for administering the test.

In addition to the King-Devick test, general symptoms to look for when a suspected concussion occurs include:

  • Fatigue and a desire to sleep.
  • Confusion.
  • An intense headache.
  • Nausea and/or intermittent vomiting.
  • Unsteadiness.
  • A child should immediately be taken to a physician if any of the following occur:

  • Change in personality accompanied by irritability or confusion.
  • Worsening headache that induces nausea or vomiting.
  • Numbness, tingling, seizure, or changes in breathing pattern.
  • Eye and vision changes, such as double or blurred vision.
  • Unequal sized pupils.

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