Concussions in Children and Adolescents – Head injuries are always a cause to worry, especially when school-age children and adolescents are involved. Concussions can happen at any time to all age groups; however, most cases occur in children and teenagers aged 5 to 14. This is more common in young children as their heads are disproportionately larger compared to the rest of their bodies.
Children and teenage brains are still developing so concussions can significantly threaten future cognitive development. That is why it’s important to understand what concussions are, as well as the symptoms, associated long-term consequences, and potential management strategies. With this information, we can work towards treating concussions in young people and children efficiently.
Causes of Concussions
A concussion is a type of brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or something that causes the brain to move quickly back and forth which then damages the reticular activating system (RAS). In serious cases, it can alter a child’s brain function and is most commonly caused by the following scenarios:
Young athletes playing high-contact sports like rugby, boxing, and martial arts are at greater risk of getting concussions. A UK study on Oxfordshire’s rugby union found that this sport was responsible for the diagnosis of concussions in males aged 0-19 years old.
Motor vehicle accidents
Traumatic road accidents are another main cause of concussions in young people. The Child Brain Injury Trust has identified road traffic collisions as the leading contributor to brain injuries in children across the UK.
In children under the age of 5, falls and assaults are more common causes of concussions. Accidental slips or perpetrated violence like Shaken Baby Syndrome can cause swelling in the brain and neck injury.
Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) is a reality when the symptoms of this brain injury are missed or ignored. The symptoms fall into the categories of physical, psychological, and cognitive ability and these can last for several weeks or months. Symptoms such as headaches, depression, sleeping problems, forgetfulness, and other mood disturbances fall into these categories.
There is also the risk of Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), which is when patients experience a second concussion before the symptoms from an earlier concussion have subsided. This can be fatal in children and adolescents, and either death or lifelong neurological disability follows. Any movement that causes the brain to move can cause lethal damage.
Early Detection and Management Strategies
Recognising the signs of concussion in children and adolescents early on can directly prevent long-term damage.These symptoms aren’t always obvious and are not always immediate so parents, teachers, and sports coaches should ensure they are aware of the signs. If a child is experiencingdizziness, numbness, memory problems, or vomiting, then it is important to seek medical help.
If your child or teenager has experienced a concussion and received the necessary medical attention, cognitive and physical rest is a must for 24 to 48 hours. Over-the-counter painkillers can be used to manage the pain if advised by a healthcare professional and a cold compress can be applied to reduce swelling.
A step-by-step return to school, sports, and driving should be in place. This involves gradually increasing your involvement in your usual activities, with a break from sports being at least 21 days long.