In youth sports, trained medical professionals are typically not on the sidelines. Parents and youth coaches, therefore, have an important responsibility to recognize when a child may have sustained a concussion on the playing field, and respond appropriately.
The following are six action steps we strongly encourage parents take:
1. Learn how to recognize a concussion
To recognize a concussion, you are looking for two things:
- A blow to the head or to the body that moves the head violently, and
- Any sign or symptom that indicates a change in the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional function or behavior.
For further information and education, we recommend parents view one of the online educational videos on concussion (e.g., CDC’s Concussion Training, the AcTIVE concussion training program, or one of the sport-specific videos (football, lacrosse, ice hockey) made by the National Academy of Neuropsychology and the National Athletic Trainer’s Association).
2. Learn the 10 danger signs of brain injury
There are 10 danger signs of a brain injury that, although relatively uncommon, require immediate emergency medical attention if they are observed or suspected. Call 911 immediately if any of these signs are present.
- One pupil larger than the other
- Drowsiness or inability to wake up
- A headache that gets worse and does not go away
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Convulsions or seizures (shaking or twitching)
- Inability to recognize people or places
- Unusual behavior, increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
- Loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out). Even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously.
3. Remove the child from play
If you suspect a concussion, remove the child from play and obtain a medical evaluation. Any blow to the head, no matter how mild, can cause a concussion. Look for the associated signs and symptoms. It is better to be safe than question if they should return to the game. Treat all concussions as serious. If you suspect a concussion, call your child’s pediatrician and ask if he or she would prefer to examine your child or if you should go to the emergency room. Do not try to judge the seriousness of the injury yourself. Second-impact syndrome, though rare, occurs when an individual sustains a second concussion before the first has properly healed, and can be severely disabling or even lead to death.
4. Support proper treatment
After a concussion, the individual’s brain should not be over-stimulated or subjected to any further risk of re-injury. The less “work” the brain has to do, especially early in recovery, the more energy it can put toward healing. During recovery, it is important to provide a careful balance between activity and rest, not allowing the symptoms to worsen. Managing the child’s physical and cognitive (school) activity is very important throughout recovery.
5. Use tools to guide your recognition and response
The CDC materials are excellent, either in paper form or via the Concussion Recognition & Response (CRR) app to help guide your recognition of the signs and symptoms:
- For coaches and parents: iPhone | Android
- For athletic trainers and healthcare professionals: iPhone | Android
6. Monitor and record the child’s symptoms at home
Monitor and record the child’s symptoms at home as is recommended by the CDC. The Home Symptom Monitoring feature of the CRR app can assist you to track symptom progress and provide this valuable information to assist post-injury treatment.
Used with permission from Gerard A. Gioia, PhD, pediatric neuropsychologist, director, Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program, Children's National. www.childrensnational.org/score.