Concussions are a rapidly growing epidemic among student athletes, with the CDC reporting that concussion rates have doubled in the past 10 years. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, emergency room visits for concussions in kids ages 8 to 13 years old has doubled, and concussions have risen 200 percent among teens ages 14 to 19 in the past decade.
It's a serious error to underestimate the dangers of concussions in kids, thinking it's just part of the game and that if the child doesn't lose consciousness, it's not that serious. According to Head Case, an organization for parents concerned about sports safety, while the first concussion may be a concern for a child's health, the second and third concussions may even cause permanent brain damage. If left untreated, concussions can be fatal.
Here are some additional sobering statistics on concussions in children, provided by Head Case:
--Between 4 million and 5 million concussions occur annually, with rising numbers among middle-school athletes.
--A third of sports concussions happen at practice.
--Thirty-nine percent: the amount by which cumulative concussions are shown to increase catastrophic head injury, leading to permanent neurologic disability.
--Forty-seven percent of reported sports concussions occur during high-school football.
--In soccer, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, girls experience concussions at twice the rate of boys.
--One in 5 high-school athletes will sustain a sports concussion during the season.
--Ninety percent of diagnosed concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness.
Coaches, parents and players must take concussions seriously, taking steps to minimize the risks of getting a concussion and recognizing the symptoms. There should be no mindset of just playing through it, toughing it out and keeping quiet about a concussion to maintain a spot on the team or in a leadership position.
To stop minimizing the seriousness of concussions, it's important to first know what a concussion is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion is a brain injury that affects brain function. It is caused by a bump or blow to the head, neck or jaw, and it does not have to cause unconsciousness to be a serious, risky injury.
Next, learn to recognize the signs of a concussion so that you can spot them in your child. You should also teach your child the symptoms so that he can tell you if he is experiencing them:
According to the CDC, "Concussion symptoms differ with each person and with each injury, and they may not be noticeable for hours or days." Common symptoms include:
--Difficulty remembering or paying attention.
--Balance problems or dizziness.
--Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy.
--Feeling irritable, more emotional or "down."
--Nausea or vomiting.
--Bothered by light or noise.
--Double or blurry vision.
--Slowed reaction time.
--Loss of consciousness.
Your next step is to accept that any sport runs a risk of concussion; it's not just football. Many parents are surprised to learn that cheerleading sees more concussions statistically than baseball, according to the CDC. And any sport can lead to an unexpected head injury.
Here are some essential steps to take to help protect your child against concussions:
--Talk with your child's coach about the steps the team takes to minimize concussion risk. You may learn about safety standards and rules already in place to protect athletes, as well as school-issued equipment designed for head protection. If you find that your child's sports team does not have medical staff on-site during practices or games, request that they do, and take your request to the school board if necessary.
--If you intend to buy your child's helmet, always be sure you select a helmet that is appropriate for the sport in which they are participating. The helmet should be certified by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Be sure the helmet fits in accordance to the requirements for that particular sport. Reports show that only 15-20 percent of helmets are fitted correctly, so plan to buy a new and fitted one each season for your growing child, and instruct your child on how to wear it correctly every time. That said, know that no helmet is 100 percent guaranteed to protect against concussions, so care must be taken even when wearing one.
--Instruct your child on good self-care. Student athletes may feel like they're letting their team down if they admit injury and sit out during a high-stakes game. You must prevent this mindset as you educate your child on the long-term risks of head injuries. Make it safe for your child to inform you and coaches of any concussion symptoms.
--Teach your child that it's OK to tell a coach if he or she thinks a teammate might have a concussion. It's not tattling; it's looking out for a friend.
--Help educate your child in the proper techniques of his or her sport, teaching proper tackling or falling angles to minimize risk of concussion. Summer classes or personal coaching can be great investments in your child's health, with personalized instruction helping to fine-tune performance and safety.
--Teach your child about good sportsmanship, about not aiming to injure another player and safer celebrations on the field.
--Take your child to the emergency room immediately if a concussion is suspected.
--Follow the doctor's orders regarding when your child can return to the sport, as well as steps that should be taken to recover from a concussion, such as reducing time spent on the computer and resting.
Stay in communication with coaches and with your child's physician to keep your child as safe and as healthy as possible during the sports season but also during off-season, when your child may gather with friends to practice the sport outside of the supervision of coaches. The more your child knows about concussion risks and dangers, as well as proper sports technique and behavior, the safer he or she will be.