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Parents beware: Everyday incidents can cause concussions in kids

The past few years have seen a drastically increased focus on concussions, their health effects, how to avoid them, and how to treat them. Much of the attention has been paid to young athletes, and football in particular, but the truth is a concussion can happen to anyone.

Falling off a bike, tripping down the stairs, bumping into a cabinet … these are everyday incidents that can result in a concussion. While we refer to a concussion as a “mild traumatic brain injury,” it never seems mild to anyone going through it, or to any parent taking care of a child who has one. After all, concussions interfere with normal brain function, and lead to temporary problems with how you feel, think and act.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion

Children who are in sports may have the added benefit of having coaches, or even medical personnel on hand to make sure everything is OK, but for those not in that situation, here are some signs and symptoms to watch for.

Physical symptoms

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Sensitivity to noise/light
  • Increased fatigue
  • Trouble falling asleep

Cognitive symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Feeling slowed down

Emotional symptoms

  • More emotional/moody
  • Increased irritability
  • Anxiety

Recovering from a concussion

If you suspect a concussion, see your child’s doctor to confirm a diagnosis. He or she may refer you to a specialist. From there, it’s important to follow whatever advice you get on how to recover. Improper treatment of a concussion can make the symptoms last much longer than they normally would, or in more serious cases could result in permanent functional deficits and even death.

We’re always learning more about how to treat concussions, and some of that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. For instance, it’s been common to have children remain almost totally inactive until all the symptoms have completely disappeared. But new research has shown that too much rest can actually worsen symptoms. For a child whose symptoms include anxiety or moodiness, being forced to rest in a dark room with no activity — and missing day after day of school while knowing that homework is piling up — can increase that.

That said, here are some basic guidelines for recovery from a concussion:

  • Limit visual stimulation: Unfortunately for many kids, this means having to refrain from video games, computers, texting, TV and even reading. These require more energy from the brain and can increase symptoms.
  • Sleep: Stick to a consistent bedtime schedule, as regular rest and sleep are some of the best ways a brain has to recover. Naps shouldn’t go beyond 20-30 minutes so as not to interfere with regular sleep.
  • Diet: Don’t skip meals and maintain adequate hydration, preferably with water. For a 100-pound child/teen, that means about 70 ounces of water per day.
  • Pain control: Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the preferred medication after the initial injury, although your child’s doctor may recommend others if the symptoms are sever or prolonged.

It’s important to know that each concussion is different, and that each child will recover differently. But when treated properly, it will heal, and your child can return to normal life with no lingering effects.