Kids Should Strap On Safety Helmets When Playing Sports

2009-01-12 08:18

Snow is falling and friends are calling. ... Whether your child participates in organized winter team sports or recreation activities with friends and family, there is always a danger of concussion. Concussions account for about 46 percent of U.S. winter sport injuries.

"Knowing the warning signs of a concussion and when to seek medical attention are critical," says Holly Gilmer, M.D., chief, pediatric neurosurgery, Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Concussion dangers and risks can be found in indoor and outdoor activities including:

* Skating
* Basketball
* Snowboarding
* Cheerleading
* Hockey
* Wrestling
* Sledding
* Skiing
* Snowmobiling

Common head injury

One of the most common injuries evaluated and treated in children is cerebral concussion. As hockey (or basketball, wrestling, skiing or cheerleading) moms and dads, the risks and implications of concussions in children are concerning.

What is a concussion?

Explains Dr. Gilmer, "A concussion is the rapid onset of short-lived impairment of the brain function after a mild head injury. Traditionally, a concussion was defined as a loss of consciousness following a head injury, with normal X-rays and head CT scans. More recent data suggest that concussion may or may not involve loss of consciousness. It may be caused by a direct blow to the head, or by a direct injury to another area of the body with secondary forces transmitted to the head, such as a 'whiplash' type of injury."

Symptoms

Other than loss of consciousness, typical symptoms and signs include:

* confusion
* disorientation
* dizziness
* amnesia
* headache
* loss of balance
* nausea/vomiting
* slurred speech
* double vision

Symptoms may be quite subtle, such as a feeling of "having one's bell rung," feeling a little funny, or briefly "seeing stars" or "bright lights." A child who suffers a complex concussion or multiple concussions experiences prolonged symptoms and/or mental impairment (weeks to months).

Medical Attention

Once a child is suspected of having a concussion, he should be immediately removed from the activity (game or practice) and evaluated by a team trainer or physician. Evaluation should include the neck, as upper spine injuries are highly associated with head injuries and may separately contribute to headaches.

Says Dr. Gilmer, "If concussion is confirmed, the player should be seen by a medical doctor and should not return to play until medically cleared. If the child returns to play while still experiencing symptoms, it will greatly increase the risks of more severe post-concussive symptoms with prolonged recovery and put him at risk of additional injuries due to increased reaction time, slowed information-processing and impaired coordination."

Treatment

Rest is the best medicine. Adds Dr. Gilmer, "Our children and teenagers don't like to hear this, but for the brain, the old mantra is true! Post-concussive symptoms are worsened by exertion, both physical and mental. Concussive rehabilitation consists primarily of complete rest, including an appropriate amount of time away from school and work activities as well as athletic activity. When the child exhibits no symptoms at rest, he or she may return to school, and then gradually resume physical exertion."

Close observation and communication among the player, parents, athletic staff and medical team are essential in determining when a concussed athlete may safely return to play.

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