Neurology and Neurosurgery

Kids and concussions: Know the signs and when to seek treatment

Nuvance Health neurologist discusses concussion symptoms and treatment

By Dr. Paul Wright, Senior Vice President and System Chair of the Nuvance Health Neuroscience Institute


Paul Wright

How parents can recognize signs of concussion and get the proper care

Playing outdoors and youth sports are a big part of an active childhood. Although these activities provide an opportunity to engage in healthy exercise, related falls, collisions and blows to the head can sometimes lead to concussions.


Here is 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 bounces around or twists inside the skull. A bump, blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to move quickly back and forth can cause a concussion.


What activities increase concussion risk?

Common causes of sports- and activity-related concussions include cycling, football, playground equipment, basketball, soccer, recreational vehicles (ATVs, go-carts, mini-bikes, etc.), baseball/softball and exercise equipment. However, slips, trips and falls at home, car accidents and other everyday activities may also result in concussions.


Related story: Man survives traumatic brain injury after falling from a ladder


Although there are a few things parents can do to reduce their child’s concussion risk, accidents may still happen. That is why it is important for parents to know the signs of concussion and how to get help.


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 also experience a headache, nausea, vomiting, vision changes, balance problems, difficulty concentrating or sensitivity to light or noise.


Related article: A bump on the head or a concussion? How to tell the difference.


Your child should immediately stop doing the activity that led to the injury if you think they may have a concussion. Then, see a healthcare clinician who has experience treating concussions as soon as possible.


Although concussion symptoms often show up right away, some concussion symptoms may not appear for hours or days after the injury occurred. 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. 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


Related story: Two-year-old narrowly survives emergency brain surgery during COVID-19 pandemic


Where should my child go for concussion care?

Dial 911 or take your child to the emergency department if they have any of the “red-flag” symptoms outlined above.


Nuvance Health emergency departments have neurologists and neurosurgeons available 24/7 who are equipped to provide emergency concussion and traumatic brain injury care.


For less-severe symptoms, take your child to their pediatrician or primary care clinician or an urgent care clinician as soon as possible.


How is a concussion diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare clinician will ask about their symptoms, how the injury occurred and if they have had concussions in the past. They will also conduct a complete neurological exam.


Imaging tests — such as a CT or MRI — are not usually necessary to diagnose a concussion. Your child’s healthcare clinician will order these tests if they suspect they have sustained a skull fracture or have bleeding in their brain.


Depending on whom your child sees for an initial evaluation, they may refer them 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 is a crucial component of concussion recovery. Your child might need to limit physical activity and activities that require thinking and remembering. Your child’s healthcare clinician will tailor additional treatments if necessary to their specific needs that may include medication, physical therapy, adjusting work routines or neuropsychiatric care.


When can my child resume sports and normal activities after a concussion?

Your child’s healthcare clinician will provide more information about when they can safely return to sports, school and other routine activities. They will base recommendations on your child’s overall health, concussion history, severity of the injury and the rate of recovery. Other factors include your child’s risk of sustaining another concussion, for example if they participate in a sport with a high risk of head injury.


The bottom line: If you think your child has a concussion, immediately remove them from the activity that may have caused the head injury. For mild symptoms, a healthcare clinician like a pediatrician should evaluate your child as soon as possible. If your child has “red-flag” concussion symptoms, visit the emergency department or dial 911 immediately.


Learn more about Nuvance Health neurology and neurosurgery care.