Concussion Symptoms in Children and Teens

You may have heard plenty on the news about professional athletes suffering concussions and worried about your own children. Anyone can sustain a concussion either by playing sports or having an accident. But what exactly is a concussion, and why do we need to treat it so seriously?

Anytime an individual sustains a blow to the head, there’s a possibility of concussion. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt treatment is critical to mitigating long-lasting injury. 

Causes of Concussion

A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when someone sustains a blow to the head or suffers an injury that makes the head move back and forth with force. The brain is jostled inside the skull, and even though the spinal fluid cushions it, the brain can hit the skull directly if it moves violently. 

Concussions can cause chemical changes in the brain and even damage brain cells, even when it doesn’t cause a loss of consciousness. Only 10% of all sports-related concussions involve lost consciousness. Most concussions are mild, and the individual recovers completely, but concussions can still interfere with normal brain performance temporarily.

An injury diagnosed as a concussion is rarely a more severe brain injury with bleeding in and around the brain. Bleeding in the brain increases pressure and can be life-threatening, so you should always seek assistance for head injuries just in case.

Kids typically sustain concussions from:

  • Car or bicycle accidents
  • Fights 
  • Falls 
  • Sports injuries

Football, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and field hockey have the highest rate of concussion injuries. Even though the child wears a well-fitting helmet, they can still suffer a concussion. However, a helmet can protect the skull from fracture and mitigate serious brain injury.

Family First ER offers emergency treatment for a wide range of illnesses, injuries, and infections. Learn more here.

Concussion Symptoms

Most concussions come with the type of symptoms you might expect from a head injury. The affected individual has a headache or feels pressure in their head. They may have problems with balance, thinking, memory, or attention. Sometimes they develop a sensitivity to light or noise and appear fatigued or groggy. 

Sometimes, a concussed patient can become easily irritated or may be slow to respond to others. They might have trouble sleeping or are simply not feeling well. 

Concussion symptoms might not show up for hours or days after the injury. Teens with a concussion may have trouble focusing and feel sad, nervous, or angry. They may complain of a headache that keeps getting worse.

Seek immediate medical attention if you see someone with any of the following symptoms after sustaining a head injury:

  • Severe headache or one that gets worse
  • Behavior changes such as agitation, restlessness, confusion, or saying things that don’t make sense
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Slurred speech
  • Unusual behavior
  • One pupil larger than the other or unequal pupil size
  • Vomiting 
  • Extreme drowsiness or unable to be awoken from sleep 
  • Bleeding or clear fluid from the ears or nose
  • Unusual stiffness in the neck
  • Numbness in the face or extremities
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Crying that won’t stop, or the person cannot be consoled

Head injuries are always treated seriously. You should never feel uncomfortable seeking expert medical attention for your child, teenager, another adult, or yourself if you suspect you suffered a concussion.

Diagnosing Concussions

Healthcare providers and professionals on the sports field determine the severity of a concussion using the following information:

  • The duration of the loss of consciousness
  • The length of any amnesia and whether it’s partial or total
  • The significance of mental status changes, such as confusion or disorientation
  • The time it takes the individual to follow commands
  • Brain imaging abnormalities such as bleeding, bruising, or swelling in the brain

A physician makes a thorough examination that includes questions about how and when the injury occurred and any symptoms. Healthcare facility or emergency room staff also perform a physical examination and tests balance, reflexes, and coordination.

If the injury occurs during a sporting event, the coach or trainer can perform a few simple tests to determine if the athlete requires immediate medical attention. Any athlete with a head injury must stop playing and see a physician before returning to play.

Some schools or sports leagues perform baseline concussion testing. They use a computer program to test an athlete’s normal brain function, including attention, speed of thinking, and memory. A doctor can compare testing after an injury to the baseline to determine how the athlete is recovering.

MRIs and CT scans typically do not help a concussion diagnosis, so don’t be surprised if one is not ordered. However, if the individual loses consciousness, continues to vomit, has a severe or worsening headache, or has been injured in a serious accident or very high fall, the doctor will likely order brain scans.

Should you visit an emergency room or urgent care facility? What is the difference? Read more here.

Treating Concussions

Most concussions are mild and don’t require anything more than rest. You don’t need to prevent the person from sleeping or wake them up every hour — that’s an outdated notion.

Primarily, the patient needs to rest from physical and mental activity for a couple of days. They can make a gradual return to activity as symptoms allow. Most kids won’t like it, but you should avoid or limit screen time, including video games, TV, texting, or social media. 

Don’t allow teens to drive after a concussion, and they should avoid all rough activities from sports to wrestling with friends or siblings. They need plenty of sleep, too. They can resume light activity after a few days, like walking or watching TV. Gradually work up to pre-concussion levels. 

Concussion Recovery

The patient should wait a month or more before returning to all regular activities unless it involves sports. Sports players need a doctor’s permission or the guidance of a healthcare provider, coach, and trainer before returning to practice or the field. They need a clearly written plan for a gradual return to play.

Re-injury before completely healing from a concussion can cause complications or delays in recovery. If a child suffers a blow to the head before recovering from a concussion, it can result in longer-lasting and more severe symptoms. 

In fact, suffering even a single concussion can put a child at higher risk of having another. The effects of repeated concussions over the years can multiply the effects, as we’ve seen in professional football players and boxers. 

Family First ER Provides Expert Care for Children and Teens with Concussions

Many children and teens play sports like football, soccer, or lacrosse. Snowboarding, riding a scooter, and skateboarding are other favorite activities. Even if your child uses a properly fitted helmet for protection, seek medical attention for any blow to the head.

You need to know the location of the nearest medical facility in case of any emergency. Family First ER is staffed with medical professionals that can diagnose and treat most medical emergencies, including concussions.

We know the signs and symptoms of concussion and can determine its severity. Your child will receive all appropriate care at our facility.

Contact us today to learn more about our emergency services for people suffering from a concussion.