Parents of children playing contact sports have been heading me off at the pass asking me if they need to worry after their child has had a concussion.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a temporary loss of brain function due to a direct injury to the head and a shifting of the brain contents inside the skull. It’s important to know it’s possible your child can experience a mild concussion but not lose consciousness.
Symptoms, which may occur hours to weeks after the injury, can include feeling dizzy or dazed, having trouble remembering things, a decline in school performance, nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, feeling overly tired, or trouble with coordination and balance.
Head injuries always need medical attention
It is very important to seek medical attention after any head injury occurs in a practice or competition to determine if a concussion has occurred. In fact, when in doubt, sit them out and have your child medically evaluated!
Treatment for a concussion includes physical and mental rest. This means removing the child from play, and while symptomatic, limiting physical activity to no more than walking. This is necessary until your child’s symptoms stop. While home recovering, brain activities should be adjusted to what can be tolerated without worsening of symptoms. For example, limiting overall screen time is a smart idea.
Getting back in the classroom
So, when can a child return to school or play a sport? New guidelines suggest that someone who has had a concussion go through a set of steps that will progressively increase both physical and mental activity, while monitoring for recurrence of worsening symptoms. Your child’s health care professional will provide recommendations for both a gradual return to play and a return to the classroom.
For example, a child should be symptom-free for at least 35-40 minutes (the length of a class period) before returning to school. This can take a few days. Then, as your child’s symptom-free time increases, they can increase their school work time.
Getting back in the game
A child should be symptom-free for at least a week and fully back in the classroom before attempting to play sports. Remember, getting back on the field requires a step wise process, just like the classroom. An increase in physical activity will be recommended by you child’s health care professional.
Is prevention possible?
Prevention is possible! There are a couple ways to increase safety, like wearing appropriate headgear and safety equipment when playing a sport. Additionally, knowing the proper rules and techniques to play the game will keep your child safer. Doing these things will reduce the risk of concussion by 85%.
Hopefully tips like this will allow you and your child to use your head before your child rushes back into the game after experiencing any signs suggestive of a concussion.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.