Concussions in Teens
The number of youth diagnosed with a concussion each year is rising. About 20% of teens said they have been diagnosed with at least one concussion in their lifetime. And nearly 6% said they’ve been diagnosed with more than one. Boys and girls who play contact sports were the most vulnerable with nearly one in three teen competitors reporting they have had a concussion.
A concussion is a type of brain injury caused by a bump or blow to the head. During a concussion, the brain literally bounces inside the skull. This type of injury causes chemical changes in the brain and temporarily interferes with the way the brain functions. Healthcare providers often describe a concussion as a “mild” traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions are more serious in youth because their brain is still developing.
Most concussions are mild and allow for complete recovery. However, brain injuries take time to heal. Youth should rest from both physical and mental activities for at least a day or two after a concussion and then return to activities gradually as their symptoms allow. Since concussions are a type of brain injury, not properly treating a concussion in youth can have long-term negative outcomes. Additionally, teens also develop complications if they return to sports and other activities before a concussion has healed. Another blow to the head while the initial concussion is healing can result in longer lasting symptoms or more permanent damage.
A common misconception is that a hit to the head is not a concussion if the individual doesn’t lose consciousness. This is not true. People with concussions can show a wide range of different symptoms depending on which part of the brain was injured. Take your child to the doctor right away if your child has received a blow to the head and is demonstrating ANY of the following symptoms:
- Slurred speech
- Emotional or moody
- Change in normal sleep patterns
- Loss of balance
- Light or noise sensitivity
While most children and teens with concussions do heal and return to normal activity, it is important to receive a proper evaluation and follow treatment orders from medical professionals to ensure the best, and quickest, recovery. If the doctor finds that your child does have a concussion, it is essential that you follow through with the doctor’s plan for your child. Many parents allow children to return to their activities too soon, thinking that the doctor is being overly cautious, but the brain needs a full recovery before returning to normal activities.
Avoiding direct, repetitive injury is the single most important factor in lowering personal risk for a concussion. As a result, reducing sports-related injuries can have a positive impact on our youth. Ensure your child always uses all the appropriate protective gear for their sport and talk to them about avoiding unnecessary risks.
The National Football League (NFL) is plagued by concussions among professional players. Several former NFL players have called for an end to tackle football for kids ages 13 and under. Pro football Hall of Famers Nick Buoniconti and Harry Carson advocate for no tackle football before 14 because children’s bodies, particularly their necks and upper bodies, aren’t strong enough to counteract the bobbling of the head and shaking of the brain that occurs during tackles. Parents should advocate for no tackle football whenever possible. In organized high school sports, football accounts for more than 60% of concussions. (For males, the leading cause of high school sports concussion is football; for females the leading cause of high school sports concussion is soccer.)