Parent of a Sporty Kid: Why YOU need to know concussion signs and symptoms

By Lucile De Carbonnieres

When my kids run outside, grab a ball or hop on a bike, all they worry about is having a good time. No doubt your children, like all children, will be just the same. And that’s probably as it should be. But it means that it is up to you, the parent, to help them avoid injuries. Grazes and sprains are part and parcel of an active childhood but so are concussions too.

When is a “bump to the head” not just a bump? Would YOU be able to recognise a concussion?

Up until recent years, concussions were considered fairly trivial incidents, not needing particular medical attention. Parents have now been compelled by numerous news reports and articles to take concussions a lot more seriously. We must admit that the medical profession doesn’t yet know everything about concussion but what is clear is that a child suffering from a concussion needs to be removed immediately from sport to allow time for the injury to heal, just like you would for a sprain or a break.

Children of all ages can suffer from a concussion. It is a common injury in childhood and whilst many do happen in the context of sport many more are the consequence of accidents and falls, at home or on holidays. But when is a “bump to the head” not just a bump? Would YOU be able to recognise a concussion?

Concussions can occur any time the head moves quickly or comes to a rapid stop. When the head snaps forward, back or to the side, the skull stops moving before the brain does; the brain can keep going which can cause the brain cells to stretch and twist.

The difficulty is a concussion can cause wide variety of symptoms. The symptoms are can be vague and they are non-specific (lots of other things can cause them) and it is those symptoms that we, parents, need to look out for. It is these symptoms that medical professionals look for too as changes in the brain from a concussion will not appear on conventional hospital imaging tests (such as CT scans or MRIs).

Knowledge Recap

The main symptoms are likely to fall in four main categories

  • Physical symptoms: like headache, sensitivity to light and / or noise, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and unsteadiness, visual problems, and balance problems like stumbling or walking unsteadily.
  • Cognitive problems: like feeling slow, like having a mental fog, slow reaction time, difficulty concentrating in class, difficulty remembering, disorientated or confused, inability to answer questions appropriately, not being aware of play or events.
  • Emotional signs: being more irritable or at the opposite end laughing uncontrollably or crying uncontrollably, unusual sadness or nervousness, generally feeling more emotional, changes in mood, concentration and memory.
  • Sleep disturbance: insomnia, sleeping less than usual or sleeping more than usual, trouble falling asleep.

The list of symptoms is wide and those feelings or problems experienced by the child can also occur with a delay, can come and go, and can vary in severity, making it even harder to recognise an injury. It is probably fair to say that concussion signs in children are mainly noticed by coaches, parents and teammates at the time of injury. But in the case of a delay, the signs of the injury will only be noticed by the parents when the child is back at home.

So, this is where we, as parents, have the biggest role to play. Who better than us, parents, to qualify any of the above symptoms as being “more than usual”. Unfortunately, any parent of a teenager in the throes of hormonal changes with puberty will recognise most of these symptoms (irritable, uncontrollable crying, sadness, disturbed sleeping patterns, and the rest!) as normality. It has been said that you can make a teenager angry by just saying “good morning”! So these symptoms in themselves do not mean that your teenager has suffered a concussion while doing rock climbing during the holidays or gymnastics at their after school club. But what is important for a concussion is a deviation from their “normal behaviour”.

It is our responsibility to make sure we know the symptoms of concussion to increase the likelihood that it will be recognised and treated. Parents have a critical role to play in recognising concussions and also understanding the importance of following recovery guidelines.

Remember that a membership, like the one Return2Play offers, acquired from school, club or county, covers your children when they play with reckless energy so that you can relax when they run outside, grab a ball or hop on a bike.