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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Confusion about Concussion

By Lara Krupicka

When my teenaged daughter came off the soccer field at the end of a game complaining of a headache, I brushed it off. Even when she mentioned another player had hit her in the head during a scuffle for the ball. The blow had been mild enough not to disrupt play, so I gave her ibuprofen and encouraged her to rest. When the headache persisted, I chalked it up to migraine tendencies.

Imagine my grief and guilt when four days later the school athletic trainer diagnosed her with a concussion. I couldn’t understand how I missed the signs.

I’m not the first mom to be blindsided by a child’s concussion. Due to the myriad of myths surrounding this condition, it often takes parents by surprise.

To help you avoid mistaking or mistreating your child’s condition, should he or she suffer a bump to the head, I’ve unmasked six common concussion myths.

Myth #1

You can tell right away when someone has a concussion. They’ll vomit and have a bad headache.

Fact: Symptoms can take hours or even days to appear. And because each brain is different, reactions to the injury vary from child to child. (See sidebar for common symptoms.)

Symptoms also differ between boys and girls. A 2011 study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that both boys and girls report headaches after a concussion. But boys more often experience amnesia and confusion or disorientation, while girls may describe themselves as being drowsy or sensitive to noise.

Myth #2 

You have to be knocked unconscious for it to be a concussion.

Fact: According to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), less than 10 percent of concussions cause the person to black out. And a concussion can occur even without a direct blow to the head. An impact to another part of the body, such as a hard fall, can sometimes jar the head enough to cause the brain to come in contact with the skull’s interior. It is this internal collision that causes the injury.

Myth #3 

Don’t let a concussed person fall asleep.

Fact: We’ve long heard that you should rouse a person every few hours after they’ve experienced a hit to the head to prevent a coma. In reality, after suffering a concussion your child can (and should) be allowed to sleep. His or her brain requires rest to begin healing.

However, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your child for the first day or two to watch for the appearance of new behaviors and symptoms, or a decrease in functioning that could require an emergency room visit.

Myth #4

A concussion is “no big deal.” Kids should just shake it off.

Fact: A concussion is also known as a mild traumatic brain injury. Not only is it unwise for your child to continue in sports-related activities while recovering from a concussion, she or he may also need to cut back on mental stimulation.

Among the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations for concussion patients are that they:

  • Get plenty of rest, both at night and during the day.
  • Avoid physically demanding activities (e.g. sports or working out) or those requiring much concentration (e.g. sustained computer use, video games).

For some kids this may mean a reduction in school hours, homework, or both. The CDC suggests concussion sufferers increase activity slowly, and only with a doctor’s approval.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a helpful form your pediatrician can complete to direct the school on accommodations that should be made for a child with a concussion. You can find it online here.

Myth #5 

Only football and hockey players sustain concussions.

Fact: According to the AAN, football, rugby, hockey, and soccer top the list of sports that make boys most susceptible to concussion. Girls face the greatest risk while playing soccer and basketball.

Meanwhile, younger children (birth to 9 years old) are commonly injured while bicycling and during playground activities.

Myth #6 

As long as my child wears a helmet, he or she won’t get a concussion.

Fact: Helmets prevent skull fractures, not necessarily concussions. While a padded helmet or other protective device may lessen the impact to your child’s cranium, it can’t stop the forces of motion that cause internal brain impact. The AAN encourages parents to make sure their child’s helmet fits well and is kept in good condition to reduce the risk of concussion.

With a better understanding of concussions, you can be more aware of what you’re seeing (and what to do) if one happens to your child.  

Symptoms of Concussion

  • Dazed look
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Decreased balance, coordination, or reaction time
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light or sound

This list is not exhaustive. Check out the CDC’s Heads Up to Parents site for more information:

Lara Krupicka is a parenting journalist and mom to three girls, all of whom have suffered concussions.