From the March 2018 issue

How to Prevent Concussions in Kids

The experts at Children's Hospital of Michigan offer advice to help kids avoid these minor traumatic brain injuries and how to ensure they don't get worse if they occur.

A concussion can happen when your child gets tackled playing in a school football game or takes a tumble during cheerleading practice. A concussion can even be the result of a fender bender while driving to school.

These mild traumatic brain injuries can cause your child to become confused and dazed – and even have trouble making decisions, says Dr. Mitchel Williams, pediatric neurologist who is part of the multidisciplinary Concussion Clinic team at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.

Usually, a concussion occurs in children and adults due to “either a bump or sudden blow to their head, causing enough force to cause some temporary dysfunction,” Williams says.

Elissa Potter, BSN, RN at Children’s Hospital of Michigan who worked as an ambulatory care coordinator in the Concussion Clinic, adds that some causes for concussions aside from contact sports might include car accidents or even falls off a bike or trampoline.

Concussions are “pretty serious,” Dr. Williams adds. “They’re fairly disruptive to a child’s daily activity and effect not only school but their ability to do day-to-day tasks.”

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Symptoms of concussion can include headache, dizziness, sensitivity to noise and light, and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness, difficulty recognizing people and places, seizures, vomiting, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in limbs and unusual behavior. “Those are red flags for definitely getting to the emergency room,” Potter says.

Because accidents happen, concussions may not always be preventable. But, there are some surefire ways to protect your child and lessen the chances of repeat injuries.

1. Wear proper safety equipment.

The only way to really protect a child from a concussion is by ensuring they wear headgear like a helmet, Potter and Dr. Williams agree – especially in sports like football and hockey and when riding a bike. Both experts note mouth guards are also great, because they can absorb some of the impact.

Potter adds kids should only participate in age-appropriate activities. For example, signing a toddler up for football at age 3 or having a young kid ride a two-wheeler bike that’s too big are not advised.

In the car, kids should be wearing seatbelts, and if needed, should be sitting in booster seats or car seats.

2. If a concussion occurs, sit out.

Should an accident happen (as they do with kids), prevent further injury by first pulling the child from whatever activity they were engaged in – and have them stay put.

“Sometimes right out of the gate there might not be any symptoms, so really truly … (it’s) very important to remove (kids) from physical activity,” Potter says. “That does two things: One, it lets the brain rest for a while, and then it decreases the chance for an additional head injury.”

And kids shouldn’t return to that activity until cleared by a medical professional.

“The main concern with having a child return too soon to an activity where they could get another bump to their head is this kind of second-hit syndrome that happens, where you can amplify the original concussion symptoms and make the recovery process that much longer – and in some cases cause serious medical issues and prolonged cognitive symptoms,” Dr. Williams explains.

3. Follow doctor’s orders.

After seeking medical attention, which should happen immediately, your child’s doctor may have specific recommendations based on severity. The most important way to reduce worsening concussions is to rest and follow doctor’s orders.

“Treatment wise, the main thing for treatment is rest, and by rest it’s physically, your body resting, as well as your brain resting,” Potter says. “Also, brain rest. You don’t want to be doing things that require brain activity. Learning, doing math, reading – those are all increasing your brain activity.”

Even watching TV, using computers, texting or playing video games is too much activity, she notes.

Your child may become more tired due to the concussion, and they’ll want to sleep. That’s OK. Let them sleep, Potter says. No need to keep your child awake or wake your child up every hour, as these are misconceptions.

The amount of time your child has to refrain from regular activities may vary. “It’s not one of those cut-and-dry things,” says Potter. “There’s always reporting back and monitoring.”

Concussions require treatment. If symptoms are extreme, parents should take their child to the emergency room. For additional treatment, consult your primary care physician, and if needed, your child will be sent to concussion specialists.

Children’s Hospital of Michigan has experts on staff who specialize in concussion treatment and prevention. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of the specialists, visit childrensdmc.org or call 313-577-7220.

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