As September draws near, kids are again taking to such fields of play as soccer, football, and lacrosse, and that means head injuries are not far behind. In a word, a concussion is a blow to the head–or a bump or jolt or even a minor ding—and a knockout isn’t even necessary to qualify. Moreover, as the number of cases continues to rise, so does our collective attention and concern. After all, another way of describing a concussion is “brain damage.”
First step: Know the symptoms your child might experience:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
- Concentration or memory problems
- Just “not feeling right” or “feeling down”
There’s even an app for that: The Concussion Recognition and Response App available at the Apps Store. Its sole purpose it to help the user tell if someone is exhibiting the signs/symptoms of a concussion, and it takes less than five minutes to administer.
And should a concussion be suspected, seeking medical attention is a must. As the Associated Press’s Samantha Henry reminds us, “Concussions are caused by a blow that forces the head to move violently. They can affect memory, judgment, reflexes, speech, balance and muscle coordination, and the symptoms become worse if not properly treated . . .”
Meanwhile, if your child, indeed, has a concussion, see that s/he:
- Gets plenty of rest
- Takes it easy during the day
- Steers clear of any medications not prescribed by the doctor, including over-the-counter pain meds
- Avoids physical activities, including bike riding, exercise, etc.
- Sets aside homework, computer, video games and other mentally demanding activities
- Applies an ice pack for 10 to 20 minutes at a time if a bump should appear
Fortunately, symptoms usually disappear within three days or less, with some 50% of sufferers returning to play in nine or fewer days. But, for others, they can last for a few months, and in one in seven cases, a whole year. Know, too, that teens are more vulnerable than adults.
And they happen more often than many of us realize:
- There are an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions every year in the U.S.
- High school athletes sustain between 136,000 to 300,000 concussions annually
- 16- to 19-year-old athletes sustain 29% of all sports-related concussions
- Young people, especially girls, are more susceptible to long-term issues
- Concussion rates increased 16% annually from the 1997-98 to the 2007-08 school years.
- Almost 90% of concussions go unrecognized.
Then there’s the fact that 11% of first-timers will go on to experience yet another concussion—and the chances of that happening are six times greater for them than for someone who has never received such a blow. And for those who have suffered three or more concussions, there’s an increased risk of everything from loss of consciousness to memory problems and confusion.
Moreover, football players are most at risk, as at least one of them suffers a mild concussion during just about every game. Not surprisingly, then, about 67,000 concussions occur in high school football alone every year. Then there are the 3.5 million kids, six to 13, who play, too, and are at risk.
And speaking of risk, after football, head injuries are most likely, in this order, to result from:
- Boys ice hockey
- Girls’ soccer
- Boys lacrosse
- Girls lacrosse
- Boys’ soccer
Fortunately, a new product is now available to help prevent the jarring of fragile brains. Nothing can totally eliminate the risk, but the Guardian Cap, a soft-shelled football helmet cover, can make a difference in helping protect our kids at play. No wonder, then, that numerous coaches here and in Canada, too, are giving it a try.
Developed by the Hanson Group, parent company of POC Ventures, LLC, this one-size-fits-all helmet cover slips on and off easily. And, as the company explains, “It reduces Head Injury Criteria and decreases the force of impact by increasing the time of deceleration upon impact.” In other words, it’s an added layer of protection.
In fact, when standard helmet tests were performed with and without the cap—think crash test dummy–“there was up to 33% less impact intensity when the Guardian Cap was on the helmet.” Plus, it’s only ¾” thick.
Fortunately, most instructors are taking steps to ensure the well-being of sports-minded kids. For instance, as Josh Askin, program director of i9 Sports in Montgomery County explains, “There has been a lot of talk about concussion safety in youth sports lately, and we’ve been paying attention. While i9 Sports programs involve minimal contact, and the risk for concussions is low, player safety has always been our top priority. New research shows that any concussion, even a ‘ding’ or ‘bell ringer,’ needs to be taken seriously. This is why we have updated all of our coaching guides to include information on the signs and symptoms of a concussion.”
Meanwhile, back in the fall of 2010, the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit developed its team-run BrainSTEPS program made up of such professionals as a psychologist, speech pathologist, training specialist, and trauma program director from St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. They all work with our schools helping children get back into their school routines after suffering a concussion.
As the unit’s Lois Robinson, director of special education, explains, “Brain injuries can affect students in several ways. In addition to their cognitive function, it can affect motor skills and speech, hence specialists expert in those areas.”
Moreover, in addition to assisting and monitoring children’s return to academia, the team holds workshops to raise awareness, trains coaches and athletic directors, and consults with school medical personnel—and the service is “booming.”
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has also taken a stand against concussions, too, with its Safety in Youth Sports Act that was signed into law by Governor Corbett in November, 2011 and became the law of the land in July, 2012. Among its tenets is the requirement that, when a concussion is suspected, a player be immediately removed from the game by the coach and not be allowed to return to play until cleared in writing by a medical professional trained to diagnose and manage concussions.
Moreover, if such measures are not adhered to the first time, the coach is suspended for the remainder of that season. A second violation and the coach would be suspended for that current season and the next one, too. A third strike would result in a permanent coaching ban.
Bottom line for parents: Take every precaution, such as making sure your child follows all the rules of the game and practices good sportsmanship. Wearing the proper protective gear is a must, too, such as a mouth guard and well-fitting helmet. It’s important, too, to alert the coach if your child has already suffered a concussion. After that, always be vigilant and on the lookout for the signs of a concussion, even when you hear your child say, “I’m fine.”