Concussions Symptoms & Causes

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While recent news coverage has focused extensively on the issue of concussions in professional athletes, the fact remains that kids get concussions, too – and not only from sports.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that is most often caused by a direct blow to the head, but can also result from body blows that snap the head forward or backward, sending the brain into a spinning motion. 

What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?

It’s important for parents to recognize possible symptoms, because younger children don’t always realize that what they are experiencing could be linked to a concussion.

Signs Symptoms
  • being slow to acknowledge or respond when spoken to
  • struggling with balance and coordination
  • looking or acting “spaced-out”
  • appearing “glassy-eyed”
  • headaches
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia) or excessive sleepiness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering and paying attention
  • problems with balance and coordination

How do I know if my child needs to see a specialist?

It is possible that a child with a concussion will need more specialized treatment. If your child is not getting better – or is actually feeling worse – after the first few days, you should ask for a referral to a specialist. 

Rarely, a child with a concussion will experience serious complications. You should seek immediate emergency care if your child:

•   has blood or fluid coming out of her nose or ears
•   has a seizure or loses consciousness
•   has worsening headaches
•   vomits repeatedly
•   experiences difficulty breathing
•   has trouble walking or standing
•   experiences a change in pupil size (one is bigger than the other, or both are abnormally enlarged)
•   starts slurring her speech or experiencing difficulty speaking
•   develops noticeable bruising or a large bump anywhere on her head

What is second impact syndrome?

Athletes can develop second impact syndrome if they sustain another concussion before a prior concussion has fully healed. This is a rare but severe syndrome that can cause swelling in the brain, brain damage, coma and even death.

Here at Boston Children's Hospital, we treat concussions with a multidisciplinary approach – combining our clinicians’ expertise in sports medicine, neuropsychology, neurology, and neuroradiology. Our experts are fully equipped to assist your child – and each member of your family – at every step of the way. 

What is chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a relatively new diagnosis. It is a rare syndrome that has been observed in some former athletes – most notably, football players – who suffered multiple concussions during their sports careers, and went on to experience severe mental health and memory problems later in life. Autopsies have revealed changes in their brains that are very similar to the changes caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Concussion FAQs

Why is there such a focus on concussions in student-athletes?

While children frequently sustain concussions for other reasons – falls or car accidents, for example – student-athletes are at particular risk. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million concussions happen each year in the U.S. during sports or recreational activities. This is especially troubling because an athlete who has had a concussion is at increased risk of suffering another.

Which sports carry the highest risk of concussion?

Football tends to attract the most attention in the media, but ice hockey players are just as likely – if not more likely – to suffer sports-related concussions. And virtually any sport or physical activity can result in concussions: here at Children’s, we have seen patients with concussions sustained during baseball, softball, rugby, wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, field hockey, horseback riding and even swimming!

Does my child need to give up sports if she’s suffered a concussion?

Most likely, no. Nearly every student-athlete who experiences a concussion can eventually return to sports – but only gradually (after getting the prescribed amount of rest), and only with a doctor’s explicit permission. Talk to your child’s doctor about the approach that will work best for her.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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