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Concussions: Signs and Symptoms

Posted 7/15/2016 by UHBlog

Concerned about your young athlete suffering a concussion? We can help you recognize the signs and guide you through recovery.

Concussions: Signs and Symptoms

The movie “Concussion,” which highlights the dangers of repeated blows to the head suffered by NFL players, may leave the impression that all football players are destined to a life filled with confusion and pain. While the plight of these players shouldn’t be minimized, most professional and casual athletes recover quickly and fully.

“There are 4 million concussions in the U.S. each year, but this is a very treatable problem – and very few are likely to lead to serious problems if appropriately managed,” says neuropsychologist Christopher Bailey, PhD. “The vast majority of people who have concussions – about 90 percent – are expected to recover within the first few weeks with some rest.”

As fall sports season approaches, parents and coaches must be aware that concussions occur across all sports, Dr. Bailey says. These include: football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse and hockey. Girls are more likely than boys to develop concussions from the same type of impact and it may take them longer to recover.

According to Dr. Bailey, coaches and parents should look for these signs if you suspect your athlete is concussed:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Change in vision
  • Light or noise sensitivity
  • Change in behavior
  • Confusion about basic information (day of the week, opponent, plays, recent events, etc.)

And, if you suspect a concussion occurred, remove the athlete from play, says Dr. Bailey. You should take the athlete to an emergency room immediately if they:

  • Vomit more than once
  • Show dramatic changes in mental status (like slurring words or an inability to speak)
  • Lose consciousness for more than a minute

Otherwise, see a pediatrician or sports medicine specialist within 72 hours to rule out a more serious injury, Dr. Bailey says.

Parents and coaches can call the UH concussion hotlines at 216-983-PLAY or 216-983-HEAD for more guidance.

Dr. Bailey says it’s important to be vigilant as some athletes disregard signs of concussion because they want to finish the game. Other times, they misinterpret symptoms as normal byproducts of intense play. Concussion symptoms can blossom up to 48 hours after injury and worsen with repeated physical and cognitive activity.

To minimize the risk of developing a concussion or suffering long-term effects from a concussion, Dr. Bailey recommends that you:

  1. Get a baseline test before the season begins. University Hospitals offers this testing as part of its ImPACT program. In the event your athlete gets concussed, doctors will be able to compare his or her physical and cognitive levels before, during and after injury to determine when full healing occurs.
  2. Educate yourself. “Parents know when their child is not acting quite right, so you need a sense of what a concussion is,” Dr. Bailey says.
    Once you suspect something is wrong, discontinue play and seek help. Serious problems may occur when someone develops a second concussion while still recovering from the initial injury.
  3. Follow the doctor’s orders. If an athlete is concussed, you'll want to follow your doctor’s recommendations closely to ensure the injury heals completely. This usually involves rest, refraining from physical activity and limiting or eliminating screen time and homework. Ohio law requires written clearance for a student athlete to return to play.
  4. Ensure athletes understand proper technique. “If he’s playing football and is leading with his helmet instead of leading with his shoulder, he’s more likely to expose his head to more force and trauma,” Dr. Bailey says. “If he’s heading the ball in soccer, he needs to use the appropriate heading technique.”
    Athletes who suffer repeat concussions should review game tapes or talk to their coaches to identify which practices are putting them at risk – then change them.

Christopher Bailey, PhD is a neuropsychologist at University Hospitals, director of the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Concussion Center and director of the Concussion Program, Neurological Institute. You can request an appointment with Dr. Bailey or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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