Concussions | Symptoms & Causes

What causes concussions? 

Children can get concussions from any hard hit to the head, neck, face, or body that cause a rapid acceleration of the brain. This typically happens when they are struck in the head. It can also occur if an athlete is hit on the facemask or chest, causing the head to snap forward or backward.

Some of the most common causes of concussion in children include:

  • falls
  • sports injuries
  • motor vehicle accidents 
  • being hit by an object or another person

Is it possible to reduce a child’s risk of concussion?

The most important way parents and athletes can prevent serious injury from a concussion is to allow time for proper recovery. If your child has had a concussion, it is important to follow their doctor’s recommendation for when it is safe to return to vigorous exercise or other high-impact situations. In addition, neck-strengthening exercises can help keep an athlete’s head from snapping backward or forward during impact and reduce the chance of sports concussions.

Do helmets prevent sports concussions? 

Helmets are not designed to prevent concussions. They are made to prevent catastrophic brain injury, which they're very effective at. Every athlete who plays football should have a new, properly fitted, undamaged helmet. But parents and athletes should understand that this will not decrease the risk of concussion.
Mouth guards have been proposed as a way to decrease the risk of concussion, but they don't help either. Mouthguards are an important way to prevent facial trauma during some sports, but they will not reduce the risk of concussion.

What are the symptoms of a concussion? 

Most children and young athletes don't recognize their symptoms as a concussion. Parents can look for signs, like their child being slow to respond verbally, being off-balance and looking spaced-out or glassy-eyed. The bottom line is if you suspect your child has a concussion, take them to see a doctor. It's critical that patients are evaluated after sustaining a concussion.

Possible signs and symptoms of concussion include:

  • being slow to respond
  • headache
  • changes in sleep habits, such as sleeping more or less than usual
  • changes in play habits
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • trouble concentrating, remembering, or paying attention
  • changes in eating habits
  • persistent crying or crankiness

If your child has any of the following symptoms after a fall or hit, seek emergency care right away:

  • trouble with balance or walking
  • excessive vomiting
  • slurred speech
  • extreme tiredness or trouble being awakened
  • seizures or convulsions
  • loss of consciousness (passing out) for longer than 1 minute
  • one pupil (black center of the eye) is larger than the other
  • problems with balance or coordination

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

Some children with a concussion need more specialized treatment. If your child is not getting better or is feeling worse after a few days, you should ask for a referral to a specialist.