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Know the signs of concussions and brain injuries in kids

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Seven years ago, my son suffered a traumatic brain injury during an out-of-town soccer game. An opposing player was clearing the ball by the goal. My son took the full brunt of the ball in his right parietal lobe. The force knocked all 6-foot-2 of him off his feet, and he was out cold. He regained consciousness quickly and convinced his coach to leave him in, scoring the winning goal for his team. At the time of the incident, there were no mandates in place about removing an athlete from participating if a head or brain injury was suspected.

My son arrived home not feeling well; the right side of his head was swollen. Because it was a Sunday, I took him to the hospital as soon as I heard what had happened. The emergency room physicians examined him, scanned his head, and pronounced him fit enough to go home. They did caution me about symptoms to watch for and to monitor him overnight, just in case. He did fine.

I sent my son to school the next morning and received a call from him just hours into his day. He felt dizzy, disoriented, and nauseous. He had a severe headache, too. These symptoms were indicative of a traumatic brain injury.

According to the Brain Injury Network (http://www.braininjurynetwork.org/thesurvivorsviewpoint/definitionofabiandtbi.html), traumatic brain injury is a condition resulting from an external force, such as a jolt or blow to the head or the penetration of the skull by a foreign object. Most are mild; these are commonly referred to as “concussions.”

When I got that call from my son, I took him to see a sports concussion specialist, which our pediatrician referred him to. My son was given a number of tests, which he failed. He was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury and pulled from all athletics immediately. The specialist monitored him and retested him weekly while his brain healed from the trauma; however, the monitoring process was hampered by the fact that my son did not have a baseline before he sustained the injury. (My other soccer-playing kiddos have annual baselines.) It would be a month until my son could return to playing soccer, and close to a year before he felt fully himself.

Of the 1.7 million adults and children who sustain traumatic brain injuries each year, 52,000 die, 275,000 are hospitalized, and 1.365 million are treated and released from emergency rooms. Boys and men are more likely to sustain this type of injury than girls and women. Close to a half million children from birth through age 14 are treated annually in emergency rooms for traumatic brain injuries; injuries are most commonly sustained by children from birth through age 4 and adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. The Center for Disease Control has seen a 57 percent jump in brain injuries in children ages 19 and younger between 2001 and 2009 (http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html).

In addition to dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and severe headaches, those suffering a brain injury can experience any of the following:

• Memory loss

• Slowing cognitive functioning

• Visual issues

• Sensitivity to light and sound

• Loss of smell, balance issues

• Trouble sleeping

• Fatigue

• Mood changes — especially irritability, feeling depressed, and seizures

These signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and last long-term or short-term.

Seek immediate medical attention if your child experiences:

• Loss of consciousness

• Ongoing nausea or vomiting

• An ongoing and worsening headache

• Convulsions or seizures

• One pupil larger than the other

• Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination

• Slurred speech

• Cannot be consoled, keeps crying

• Refusal to nurse if nursing

• Loss of appetite

• Wets the bed after being toilet trained

• Appears drowsy or cannot be woken up

• Confusion, does not recognize familiar people or environment

• Restlessness, agitation, or unusual behavior

Judy M. Miller is a certified Gottman educator and the author of “What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween,” “Writing to Heal Adoption Grief: Making Connections & Moving Forward,” and “For Families and Friends: Advice, Suggestions, and Honest Dialogue About How to Best Support Parents on Their Adoption Journey” available at JudyMMiller.com.

Brain safety

Here are some brain injury safety and awareness dos:

• New parents should be educated on the prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

• Soft material should cover the area around playground equipment.

• Infants and older children riding in vehicles should be properly restrained. Parents should be educated about proper installation and use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts.

• Safety gates should be installed on stairs and other elevated areas, like outside decks, and safety bars on windows to alleviate falls.

• Coaches, athletic directors, and officials should be trained about traumatic brain injuries — including what to look for and treatment.

• Parents and youth athletes should be knowledgeable about the risks of head injuries in their sports and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injuries. Athletes should wear the required protective equipment, i.e. a helmet for horseback riding.

Further reading

Education and awareness about brain injuries and brain injury prevention is critical. Here are other sites you can visit to learn more about brain injuries, support, and your state’s legislation about young athletes:

• Brain Injury Association of America, http://www.biausa.org/mild-brain-injury.htm#what%20happens

• Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports, Center for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/index.html

• FAQs about Baseline Testing among Young Athletes, Center for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/baseline_testing.html

• Traumatic Brain Injury Legislation (by State), Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/traumatic-brain-injury-legislation.aspx

• Brainline, http://www.brainline.org/index.html

• Legislation on Sport-Related Concussions, Child Safety Network, http://www.childrenssafetynetwork.org/sites/childrenssafetynetwork.org/files/CSN_SportConcussion_Legislation2013.pdf

• Brain Injury Articles and Publications, Brain Injury Alliance: New Jersey, http://www.bianj.org/brain-injury-articles-and-publications

Posted 12:00 am, July 28, 2018
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