How to Identify a Concussion in a Child

Active, healthy kids usually bounce back quickly from most injuries. Childhood concussions, however, are another matter. The consequences of concussions in children can be serious and may result in longer recovery time than they do in adults.

With today’s sports-minded kids, concussions are becoming more common. As a result, parents need to know the symptoms and when it’s time to call the doctor.

What Are Concussions and Who Gets Them?

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that occurs when a person suffers a bump or jolt to the head or body. Concussions are typically not life threatening. However, it is still a serious condition that can result in both physical and mental symptoms, particularly in developing brains.

Both boys and girls are prone to concussion, especially from sports. Boys playing football have a 75 percent risk of concussion. Girls who play soccer have a 50 percent risk. But concussions can happen in any sport or activity.

The ABCs of Concussions

As concussions continue to be a growing concern, parents and family members, coaches, and schools need to be aware of the symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a fact sheet on the ABCs of concussions anyone can use to help children get the treatment they need faster. Here is a breakdown of the ABCs:

  • Assess the situation. First, check the child immediately. Are they alert? What happened? Was there a direct hit to the head or did it result from a fall? How hard was it? Ask the child how he or she is doing. Remain calm.
  • Be alert for signs and symptoms. After the injury, look for the symptoms described below. Watch your son, daughter, or the injured child carefully, especially during the first night.
  • Concussion symptoms. Signs that something is wrong fall into four categories:
    • Physical problems like headache, nausea or vomiting, trouble with balance or dizziness, vision that’s blurred or fuzzy, sensitivity to light or sound, or fatigue
    • Cognitive problems like difficulty thinking or remembering
    • Emotional problems including mood shifts, irritability, constant crying or inconsolability (can’t be comforted)
    • Sleeping problems (more or less than usual)

See a doctor and get a medical evaluation if your child has any of these symptoms or if anything seems unusual or off.

When to Seek Help Immediately

In certain situations, a concussion can require immediate medical attention and warrant a visit to the emergency room or, in rare instances, a call to 911. Seek immediate medical attention for:

  • A headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme drowsiness or cannot be awakened
  • One pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) is larger than the other
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Child cannot recognize people or places
  • Increasing confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Loss of consciousness for longer than 30 seconds
  • Unusual behavior

Recovering After a Concussion

Treatment for concussion typically involves physical and cognitive rest. Some athletes may require adaptations for school including more time on tests, breaks and shortened school days. A health professional should work closely with the athlete to assist with school modifications and ensure a safe return to sports/activities.

A few important things you can do to help with your child’s recovery:

  1. Rest up and sleep – the brain needs time to heal. Sleep is a great way to do this.
  2. Encourage your child to eat and drink as much as normal.
  3. Prohibit any physical activity (beyond normal daily walking to class, etc.). Before they return to action, they need to stop until they feel better and have been checked out by a doctor.
  4. Limit time with electronics (screens and loud music) and other excitement that can slow brain healing.
  5. You may need to limit school and mental activities for a while. Discuss this with your doctor depending on the severity of the injury.

With proper treatment, most kids make a full recovery and get back to all of their normal activities. Long-term complications are rare if concussions are treated appropriately. So make it a point to understand the symptoms of a concussion and seek treatment when needed. Remember all children should continue to wear a helmet in contact sports and while biking to prevent skull fractures, but helmets do not prevent concussions.

Meet the Author

Mina Marie DeMarco, DO is a Family/Sports Medicine physician at Aurora Advanced Healthcare with offices in east Mequon, Good Hope, and Grafton, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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