Concussion Care Essentials to Keep Your Student Athletes Safe On (and Off) the Field

Stephen Rice, M.D.
Hackensack Meridian Health
Jersey Shore University Medical Center

As we move full-steam ahead into another season of school (and school sports), it's vital that ALL parents take time to brush up on the warning signs of a concussion — and know where to go and what to do when they strike.

Concussions occur when a fall, blow or jolt moves your child’s head and brain quickly back and forth. Brain cells can be stretched, chemically altered or damaged. These injuries change the way the brain works, either permanently or for a short time. And a new study suggests about 2 million kids have concussions each year, making concussions more common than doctors once realized. One reason for the mismatch: Most previous studies of concussions focused only on kids who went to the Emergency Department. However, more than three-fourths of kids with concussions see a primary care doctor first.

WHEN TO VISIT THE PEDIATRICIAN

“In many cases, the pediatrician’s office is a good place to start,” says Stephen Rice, M.D., a Pediatric Sports Medicine physician at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital. “Primary care doctors can often make the initial evaluation and diagnose your child with a concussion. And as science marches forward, these doctors have even more resources to provide concussion care.”

Talk with your pediatrician if your child has a blow, fall or jolt and:

  • Seems dazed, stunned or confused
  • Has a headache or a feeling of pressure
  • Can’t remember what happened right before or after
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Appears sensitive to light or noise
  • Has problems with balance or vision

 

WHEN TO GO TO THE ED

In rare cases, head trauma can cause dangerous bleeding that needs urgent treatment. Dr. Rice advises to head to the Emergency Department or call 911 if your child shows symptoms that get worse as time elapses or exhibits these danger signs:

  • Loss of consciousness greater than one minute
  • Shaking, twitching or slurred speech
  • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
  • Ongoing vomiting or nausea
  • One pupil larger than the other
  • A headache that keeps getting worse
  • Trouble recognizing places or people
  • Strange behavior that includes increased confusion, restlessness or agitation


As your child recovers, he or she might also need to see a specialist. Your child’s doctor can guide you to the best resources.

Most important, a concussed brain must conserve energy to repair itself. Because the normal metabolism of the brain is disrupted by the concussive blow, brain rest is recommended to limit damage and begin healing. Sleep during the first few days is the best form of rest; avoiding computer screens, texting and busy places helps the brain recover.