By Nuvance Health Neurologists
Now that summertime is here, and communities are reopening after the initial surge of COVID-19, your kids will likely be riding bikes, skateboarding, playing outdoors, and returning to youth sports. These activities are an important part of childhood and provide an opportunity to engage in healthy exercise. However, falls, collisions, and bumps to the head can sometimes lead to concussions.
Here’s what parents need to know about concussions, including what they are, how to spot the signs, and when to seek medical care.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when the brain gets bounced around or twisted inside the skull. Concussions are typically caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to move quickly back and forth.
What are the signs of a concussion?
There are numerous signs of concussion, so parents need to pay attention to their children’s behavior and symptoms after they experience a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body.
Children who have experienced a concussion may seem dazed, feel sluggish or tired, forget where they are or what they are doing, appear clumsy or unbalanced in their movements, or respond to questions slowly. Your child may experience a headache, nausea, vomiting, changes to their vision, balance problems, difficulty concentrating, or sensitivity to light or noise.
If you think your child may have a concussion, he or she should immediately stop doing the activity or playing the sport that led to the injury. Your child should be evaluated as soon as possible by a healthcare clinician who has experience treating concussions.
Although concussion symptoms often show up right away, some concussion symptoms may not appear for hours or days after the injury occurred. You should keep an eye on your child and alert their healthcare clinician about any new or changing symptoms.
Which concussion symptoms require emergency care?
Some concussion symptoms could indicate a serious problem. You should take your child to the emergency department or dial 911 if they sustained a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body and experience “red-flag” symptoms, including:
- One pupil is larger than the other
- Drowsiness or an inability to wake up
- Headache that gets worse, is severe, or does not go away
- Slurred speech
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or prolonged nausea
- Convulsions or seizures
- Unusual behavior or mood/personality changes, such as confusion, restlessness, or agitation
- Loss of consciousness — even briefly
Where should my child go for concussion care?
For emergency symptoms, you should dial 911 or take your child to the emergency department. For less-severe symptoms, you should take your child to see a primary care or urgent care clinician as soon as possible.
Nuvance Health emergency departments are staffed by clinicians who are equipped to provide emergency concussion care, such as neurologists. Nuvance Health patients throughout Connecticut and New York can visit their primary care clinician, and patients in New York can also visit a Nuvance Health urgent care center.
If your child needs concussion care, skipping or delaying an in-person evaluation due to COVID-19 concerns could be dangerous. Across all facilities, Nuvance Health has implemented safety protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. For more information, visit nuvancehealth.org/safecare.
If symptoms are mild, your child’s pediatrician may be able to diagnose a concussion via telemedicine. You should contact your child’s pediatrician to find out if telemedicine is an option, or if an in-person visit is required. To learn more about Nuvance Health Virtual Visits, please go to nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.
How is a concussion diagnosed?
Your child’s pediatrician will ask about your child’s concussion symptoms, how the injury occurred, and whether your child has had any concussions in the past. They will also conduct a complete neurological exam.
Imaging tests — such as a CT scan or MRI — are not usually necessary to diagnose a concussion. Your child’s pediatrician will only order these tests if they suspect your child has sustained a skull fracture or has bleeding in his or her brain.
After an initial evaluation, your child may be referred to a neurologist for follow up care. Nuvance Health neurologists are experienced in treating concussions and can recommend an appropriate treatment plan for your child.
How is a concussion treated?
Rest may be a component of concussion recovery. Your child might need to limit physical activity — as well as activities that require thinking/remembering — while symptoms are severe. Additional treatments will be tailored to your child’s specific needs and may include medication, physical therapy, adjustments to school/work routines, or neuropsychiatric care.
When can my child resume sports and normal activities after a concussion?
Your child’s pediatrician or neurologist will provide more information about when they can safely return to sports, school, and other routine activities. These recommendations are based on several factors, including your child’s overall health, concussion history, the severity of the injury, and the rate of recovery. Other factors include your child’s risk of sustaining another concussion as a result of athletic participation.
The bottom line: If you think your child may have a concussion, they should be immediately removed from play. For mild concussion symptoms, your child should be evaluated by a primary care or urgent care clinician as soon as possible. If your child experiences “red-flag” concussion symptoms, visit the emergency department or dial 911 immediately. Nuvance Health has implemented safety protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, so there is no reason to skip or delay your child’s concussion care due to COVID-19 concerns.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations