Every fall, my office fills with a cadre of children requesting physical forms filled out to release them for participation in extracurricular sports and activities.
One of the first things I ask an athlete is: “have you ever had a concussion?”
What’s the big deal? If you’ve been paying attention to the media and your coaches, concussions have lately become a really hot topic. Technically speaking, a concussion is an injury to the brain that results from a significant blow to the head. Since the brain rests like a ping-pong ball inside the protective shell of the skull, if a child’s head is hit hard enough on one side, they may sustain brain injuries on both the side of impact and the opposite side of the head when the brain has bounced back inside against the other side of the skull.
An injury to the brain may cause an athlete to have a headache, confusion, loss of consciousness, or nausea and vomiting. Most of the time, children recover from concussions without long-term complications. However, athletes who have recurrent head injuries or return to play too soon may have permanent effects on their memory function and ability to learn. Adolescents that have had three or more concussions have been shown to demonstrate impaired memory and cognitive function when compared to their peers who have no history of head injury. Researchers have also noticed that it generally takes these children longer to recover with each subsequent head injury.
So what can you do to protect your budding athlete? Make sure that your child is wearing properly fitting protective gear that is appropriate for his or her sport. Teach your children not to use their head as a weapon while playing and avoid hitting other children head first. If a head injury does occur, follow your doctor’s advice and don’t allow your child to return to play before all of their symptoms have resolved. There will always be one more game. Hopefully there will never be one more concussion.
Kristin Seaborg is a Wisconsin pediatrician who writes about her experiences and perspective as a pediatrician and a parent of three children on her blog, Common Sense Motherhood. To find out more about Dr. Seaborg, you can visit her website, www.kristinseaborg.com.