Concussions: What Parents and Coaches Say

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Parents and coaches worry about concussions, but many still aren’t following doctors’ recommendations about what to do when a child is injured, according to a KidsHealth online survey.

Not every bump causes a concussion, but it’s important to know what to watch for. Concerned about the lasting effects of concussions, doctors now recommend these steps after a hit to the head:

  1. The player should immediately stop playing or practicing.
  2. The player should get checked out by a doctor before returning to practice or play.

About half of parents and almost as many coaches said they would not take those two steps, according to the survey, conducted in January and February 2015.

Instead, some parents would allow a child to get right back in the game or wait just 15 minutes, and then allow a return to play. Others would pull the child from playing, but would not check in with a doctor.

“It is sometimes hard to know what to do after a bump or blow to the head,” said one of the 500 U.S. parents and coaches who responded to the survey.

Concussion symptoms may not appear right away. Parents and coaches might suspect a concussion based on what the hit looked like and how the child seems afterward.

Depending on the child’s symptoms, parents should either go to a hospital emergency room or call the doctor for further advice. Without the right care, problems like headaches and trouble concentrating can last for days, weeks, or even months. Repeated concussions are especially dangerous.

“My son had a concussion at 13 and suffered consequences from it: ADD-type behaviors, change of attitude, and lack of interest in sports,” one parent wrote in the survey.

Media reports about concussions have had an effect, according to the survey. A lot of parents (2 out of 3) whose kids play organized sports said they are now more cautious about possible concussions.

When Should You Go to the ER?

Concussions are tricky for doctors to diagnose, so it’s no surprise that parents have questions. The survey asked parents to look at a list of symptoms and decide which were the most serious. Most parents (88%) knew they should go to the emergency room if the child lost consciousness. Fewer were ready to go to the ER for trouble walking (73%) or blurred vision (50%). But both those symptoms need emergency care.

If your child might have had a concussion, go to the emergency room if he or she has any of these symptoms:

  • loss of consciousness
  • severe headache, including a headache that gets worse
  • blurred vision
  • trouble walking
  • confusion and saying things that don’t make sense
  • slurred speech
  • unresponsiveness (you’re unable to wake your child)

Call your doctor right away to report other problems, such as vomiting, dizziness, headache, or trouble concentrating. Then you can get advice on what to do next. For milder symptoms, the doctor may recommend rest and ask you to watch your child closely for changes, such as a worsening headache.

The survey showed that many parents still believe they must keep a child awake after a suspected concussion. It’s OK to let the child fall sleep, experts say. But if you find you can’t awaken your child, get emergency care.

Get a Doctor’s OK Before Returning to Play

With the right treatment, most kids and teens recover quickly and fully. Recognizing concussions when they happen and taking the right steps toward healing can help prevent lasting symptoms or further injury.

Health experts — including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Neurology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — agree that young athletes should not compete or practice until a health care professional experienced in concussion evaluations says they’re symptom-free.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia now have “return-to-play” laws, which usually require:

  • removing student-athletes with suspected concussions from play
  • getting permission from a health care professional to return to play

According to the KidsHealth survey, coaches in the Northeast know more about the “return-to-play” rules than coaches in other parts of the United States. More than half (60%) of Northeast coaches said they abide by the new rules, compared with half or less than half of coaches in other parts of the country.

Organized sports players come to mind when talking about concussions, but other kids are at risk, too. Kids 4 and younger often get concussions due to falls. And bicycle accidents injure more than 500,000 kids and teens a year, which is why bike helmets are so important.

Recovering From a Concussion

Rest from physical and mental activity, including school, is usually part of the treatment for concussions. Some kids and teens may miss a week or more. And when they do return, they might need to start with a light workload. Academic activities that require concentration — like studying for an exam — can cause concussion symptoms to come back or get worse.

Many schools now require brain function tests called baseline concussion tests for their student-athletes. These tests, done before the season, set a “baseline” for how well the player’s brain functions. Then, if an injury happens, doctors can compare the pre-season results to test results after the injury.

You can ask your doctor or school about baseline concussion testing.

Getting Kids and Teens On Board

Kids and teens may stand in the way of their own recovery if they don’t want to leave a big game or miss practices.

“My daughter actually suffered a concussion in cheerleading this year and I felt she did not follow all the doctor’s orders because she still wanted to cheer!” one parent said in the survey.

Athletes also hear that they should “play through the pain,” which is the worst thing a kid or teen can do when it comes to concussions. Teens may be more likely to listen to teammates, so it’s a good idea to educate young athletes so they can look out for each other.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015