Concussions in Kids, Teens More Common Than You Think

Parkour: Not a Toddler-Safe Activity

My toddler never stops moving. And I mean that literally. If he’s conscious, his momentum and destructiveness rival Juggernaut. He approaches his environment (our living room, the park, the cat perch) like he’s playing professional-level parkour; he climbs over/under/through anything in his route and predictably chooses the path with the most resistance. In his 18 months of life, I consider it a small miracle he hasn’t already endured a few broken bones and at least six concussions.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating.

Kids are generally sturdier than us adults give them credit. For every 50 or so bumps and bruises your child gets, maybe only a handful require a doctor’s visit (that statistic is completely fabricated by me, but you get the idea).

On the flip side, children may be getting injured more than we realize—particularly, incurring brain trauma without our even realizing it.

Concussions in Adolescents

A new Canadian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 1 in 5 adolescents has likely suffered a concussion. The findings were based on surveys completed anonymously by almost three-quarters of Ontario teens. According to Los Angeles Times coverage of the study:

A total of 20.2% of respondents reported that at some point in their average 15 years of life, they had either been hospitalized overnight after a blow to the head or had been knocked unconscious for more than five minutes. And 5.6%–more than 1 in 20 students–said they had suffered such an injury within the last year.

Further, the study puts into question whether concussions negatively impact a child’s grades or put him at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse. The results indicated a strong correlation between a history of traumatic brain injury and poor grades, underage drinking and illicit drug use.

Why We Should Pay More Attention

It’s natural perhaps to underreact when your child has a fall, since your panic and worry can often freak your child out even more. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Repeated mild TBIs occurring over an extended period of time (i.e., months, years) can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits”—even leading to epilepsy and an increased risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Now That You’re Worried

As if parents don’t have enough to worry about…

So short of wrapping your child head-to-toe in bubble wrap, what’s a parent to do?

Well, consider the top causes of TBIs. Falls account for half of head injury among children aged 0 to 14 years, while colliding with an object was the second leading cause, totaling 25% of TBIs. Activities associated with the greatest risk of TBIs include bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer. And, as you might suspect, motor vehicle crashes (obviously a prime risk factor for concussion) are highest among 16- to 19-year olds.

Besides following no-brainer (sorry, had to pun) safety tips, such as these outlined by the CDC, make sure your child’s school and her coaches also know what to look for. And as for teen car crashes…well, I don’t plan to let my son drive until he’s at least 30. We’ll see how that pans out.

What to Look For

Common symptoms after your child has a fall or head injury include:

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue

source: Mayo Clinic

Keep in mind that some symptoms of concussion can occur hours or even days after the injury. And of course, if your child ever loses consciousness—even for just a few minutes—take her to the doctor immediately.
The CDC offers these handy fact sheets to help parents and coaches identify TBIs.

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