Concussion in Children and Teenagers

The diagnosis of concussion, especially in children, carries significant implications for the developing brain. Once viewed by doctors, psychologists and educators as an isolated and time-limited diagnosis, a concussion—even when it is deemed as “mild”—can lead to serious and lifelong neurological, behavioral and cognitive impairment.

Danger Signs in Children

Young children can display similar symptoms of a concussion as older children and adults; however, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a child has sustained a concussion. Young children may exhibit symptoms and provide non-verbal cues like:

  • Will not stop crying and cannot be calmed down
  • Headache that persists
  • Loss of interest in playing or favorite toys
  • Loss of skills, such as talking, toilet training, crawling, etc.
  • Loss of balance and trouble ambulating (walking, crawling, turning over)
  • Will not nurse or eat
  • Listlessness and becoming tired easily
  • Unusual irritability and crankiness
  • Changes in sleeping habits

Potential Long-Term Effects of Concussion in Children

The effects of head injury in young children are thought to differ substantially from those of adults insofar as adults show a pattern of recovering from concussion-related deficits over time. This does not necessarily hold true in the case of preschool-age children. Research has shown that in the early days or weeks following injury, children may show no sign of deficits whatsoever, but as they mature, may fail to develop some skills as quickly as children who have not sustained a head injury.

The unique nature of a head injury in a child—the differences in impact and the longer time required for recovery as compared to in adults—generally can be attributed to the structural immaturity of the skull, meninges and brain.  As scientific evidence of the long-term consequences of head injuries on cognitive function in youth has grown, the American Academy of Neurology has changed its treatment approach for concussions, stressing the need for individualized management and ongoing evaluation and monitoring.

What to Do if Your Child Suffers a Concussion

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has developed an excellent fact sheet for parents on concussions. It recommends that the following steps be taken if your child or teenager sustains a concussion:

  1. Seek medical attention immediately. A healthcare professional with experience in evaluating concussion can assess how serious the concussion is, and when it is safe to resume normal activities, including physical activities and school studies (the latter involving brain stimulation in the form of learning and concentration). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends calling your pediatrician for advice if your child receives anything more than a light bump on the head.
  2. Help your child rest in order to help him/her recover. Your child’s brain needs to heal. Activities should be limited while your child or teenager is recuperating. Even activities like reading, playing video games, working on the computer and watching TV can cause concussion symptoms, such as headaches or tiredness, to resurface or get worse. Physical and cognitive activities should be carefully monitored by your child’s healthcare provider.
  3. Talk with your child about the possible long-term effects of concussion and the danger of returning too soon so normal activities (especially physical activities and learning/concentration).

Loss of Consciousness

If your child loses consciousness, call 911 right away. Your child may need to undergo special tests, such as an MRI of the brain, to assess how serious the injury is. If the results of the test are normal, you will still need to watch your child closely for some time.

Home Observation

You or another responsible adult will need to stay with your child for the first 24 hours following diagnosis of a concussion and be ready to return to the doctor’s office or hospital if he/she shows any symptoms indicating there is a problem. REMEMBER: SYMPROMS OF CONCUSSION DO NOT ALWAYS APPEAR RIGHT AWAY, AND THIS IS PARTICULARLY TRUE IN CHILDREN WHO MAY SEEM PERFECTLY FINE AFTER SUSTAINING A BLOW TO THE HEAD. Watch for the following symptoms that may indicate your child is getting worse:

  • Vomits more than 2 or 3 times
  • Cannot stop crying
  • Has a worsening headache
  • Looks sicker
  • Has a hard time walking, talking, or seeing
  • Acts confused or not like his/her usual self
  • Becomes more tired and/or is hard to wake up

Once your child’s healthcare provider has cleared your child for home observation, it is acceptable to let him/her go to sleep. Most doctors, however, will recommend that you check on your child every 2-3 hours to make sure that he/she is moving normally, can be awakened, recognizes you and responds appropriately to questions.

Sports Concussion Guidelines

In March 2013, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) updated its guidelines on the evaluation and management of sports concussion. One of the biggest changes from previous guidelines is the return-to-play recommendations. The current recommendation for athletes who have sustained a concussion is immediate removal from play. Return to play should not be allowed until after the athlete is assessed by his/her healthcare professional. The AAN emphasized that young athletes should be managed even more conservatively as their symptoms and neurocognitive performance may take longer to Young athletes should be managed even more conservatively as their immature brain is move vulnerable to injury and it may take longer for them to recover from a concussion.

Recurrent Concussions of Particular Danger in Children and Teenagers

There is strong evidence that recurrent (second, third, etc.) concussions in children and teenagers contribute to long-term neurological deficits, including chronic cognitive dysfunction. Experimental evidence suggests that the concussed brain is less responsive to its usual neural activation and when premature cognitive or physical activity occurs before complete recovery, the brain is vulnerable to prolonged dysfunction. In the face of growing evidence of the devastating impact of recurrent concussion in children and adolescents that the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine recently revised its position statement on sports concussions to stress the need for careful deliberation as to whether youth who have sustained prior concussions should be allowed to participate in contact sports.

Safety Tips for Preventing Brain Injuries in Children and Teenagers.

Tips for preventing concussions or other brain injuries include:

  • Always use a seatbelt
  • Use age-appropriate car seats for infants, toddlers and preschoolers
  • Protect playground surfaces with approved materials, such as sand, rubber or wood chips.
  • Be aware of the environment to reduce risk of falls, particularly for toddlers and young children.
  • Wear a helmet on anything with wheels, even in hot weather, and for sports such as football.

Consult with a Top Trial Lawyer About Your Concussion Injury

If your child or teenager has sustained a concussion due to the negligence or purposeful actions of another, you should consult with a top trial lawyer who has extensive experience in representing such cases. Concussions in children and adolescents pose significant risks for short and long-term impairment due to the immaturity of their developing brain. Our personal injury lawyers can provide you with the aggressive representation and resources needed to ensure that your child or adolescent gets the best and most current care available as well as the compensation to which they are entitled. Call us for a free legal consultation today at: 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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