Concussions and kids: What parents need to know

New CDC guidelines on mild traumatic brain injuries help parents evaluate when to go to the ER or see a pediatrician

If your child plays sports or is otherwise physically active, you may worry about head injury on and off the field. Prevention and treatment of concussion has evolved over the years, including a movement toward using the term “mild traumatic brain injury” to describe what we previously thought of simply as “concussion.”

Due in part to increased media reporting and athletic teams taking note, public awareness of mild and moderate traumatic brain injuries in children has grown in recent years. There has also been an upsurge in research initiatives to study these types of injuries.

Stanford pediatric emergency physician Angela Lumba-Brown, MD, conducts research on pediatric brain injuries and treats patients at Stanford Health Care’s pediatric emergency department. She is the lead author of a new set of guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising physicians on the diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injuries, including concussion, in children and teens; and was recently quoted in this New York Times story on the CDC’s first guidelines on children’s head injuries.

According to Lumba-Brown, if a child is not acting like her usual self after bumping her head, or if there is any degree of worsening in symptoms after an injury, she should be taken to the emergency department or should be seen by her pediatrician. Warning signs for mild traumatic brain injury include a headache that worsens after a head bump, or sleepiness, dizziness, confusion or inability to remember things, particularly if any of these symptoms escalate.

Other warning signs of mild traumatic brain injury include unsteadiness or difficulty walking, changes in speech, seizures, vomiting more than once, blackout or loss of consciousness. If a child was involved in a car accident, a fall from a height or other severe incident, he should also be checked out.

If you think your child may be exhibiting symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury or feel that something is not right with your child, exercise caution – visit the emergency department or your pediatrician straight away.

Children who experience these types of injuries can generally recover at home. A child should take it easy the day after an injury, while parents should monitor for symptoms.

 Mild traumatic brain injuries need time to heal, and children need emotional and physical support from their families, teachers and sports coaches to help their recovery and ensure that they aren’t overexerted or re-injured.—Angela Lumba-Brown, MD

Maintaining routine and re-integrating into physical activity as soon as possible are important for a child’s recovery and overall health. Yet because re-injury is a major risk, contact sports and rough-and-tumble play should be avoided during the recovery period.

Most children’s symptoms begin to improve within about 10 days, and families should consult with their doctor to figure out when their child can return to full activities, including contact sports.

To learn about what to expect if your child is being evaluated for mild traumatic brain injury, how the healing process will unfold, and how to avoid re-injury, read this Stanford School of Medicine interview with Dr. Lumba-Brown.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)