What should you do if you think your child has a concussion?
A serious tumble can make any parent panic. Edwin Kuffner, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., shares his expert advice for how to handle a potential concussion.
It can feel scary when your child falls and hits his head—and even more frightening when you suspect a concussion. But what should you really look for, and what’s the best course of action if you think your little one has suffered such an injury?
We spoke to Edwin Kuffner, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.—plus a father of three, sports coach and ER doctor—for his expert advice.
What exactly is a concussion?
A concussion is a mild form of brain injury that often results from direct trauma to the head.
It’s not detectable using most modern types of radiologic imaging, such as MRIs and CT scans, so it’s diagnosed based upon a history of head injury and an evaluation of typical signs and symptoms, like dizziness and nausea.
The damage from concussions is usually temporary—for most people, symptoms resolve within a week or two post-injury, although some others may experience them for weeks. Rarely, someone might have symptoms for longer.
Unfortunately, concussions are quite common. Most ER physicians see a few every day.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of traumatic brain injury, including concussions leading to emergency department visits, are on the rise. Contributing to these stats? Sports- and recreation-related injuries in children.
What symptoms should you look out for?
If your child is dazed or confused immediately following a head injury, has difficulty remembering—especially if he’s lost consciousness—he likely has a concussion.
And if in the hours or days following a head injury he further develops a headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, poor balance, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or mood changes, he likely has suffered a concussion. Even if children only exhibit a few of these symptoms, they may have one.
Parents know their kids and can often pick up on mood shifts better than healthcare professionals—you may notice that your child is just a little bit off in how he’s interacting or processing information. He might be more irritable, or just not his normal self. These signs are important to pay attention to.
What should you do if you suspect your child has a concussion?
If your child is playing a sport or participating in an activity and suffers a head injury, take him out of the activity immediately. If you suspect a concussion, it’s wise to get your child evaluated by a healthcare professional shortly after being injured to rule out a more serious brain injury, such as bleeding in and around the brain, or injuries to the neck or spine. The likelihood of this happening is rare, but it’s good to be cautious.
When I treat patients with possible concussions, I look for such symptoms as worsening headache, persistent vomiting, altered mental status and numbness or weakness—all of which might suggest a more serious condition. If that’s what I suspect, I might order additional testing, such as a CT scan.
If your child does have a concussion, your doctor will give you recommendations for keeping him safe as he recovers, including watching for such new or worsening symptoms as increasing headache, recurrent vomiting or a change in mental status. These signs would be red flags, and you should contact the doctor or go to an emergency department immediately.
You can help him recover at home by following your healthcare provider’s recommendations, which may include encouraging plenty of rest, limiting cognitive activity (watching TV, texting and video games) and using an over-the-counter analgesic to help treat a headache, if he has one.
Children should not return to sports—and risk any other kind of head trauma—until all their symptoms have resolved and they’ve been cleared by a healthcare professional. This is important because some research suggests that if you get another head injury while you’re still recovering, you could be at a higher risk for a second concussion, and it could take even longer to resolve.
How can you prevent concussions in the future?
The best thing to do is safeguard against head trauma, so it’s really important to wear helmets when doing such activities as skiing, ice skating, and riding bikes, scooters or skateboards.
And remember, no one is saying you and your family can’t be active and have fun! You just want to be sure to protect your head just as you’d protect other parts of your body.
Johnson & Johnson is so committed to child safety and injury awareness that it is a founding sponsor of Safe Kids Worldwide—an organization that partners with national and local groups to identify risk trends and offer child injury-prevention training and resources for staying safe while playing sports and in numerous other everyday situations.
For more information about concussions in children, check out the CDC’s HEADS UP initiative, which provides resources on preventing, recognizing and responding to this type of brain injury.