It starts with a body check or other sudden jarring impact. The brain, usually well-protected by the fluid surrounding it, crashes against the skull. This results in bruising at the point of impact, and on the opposite side of the skull damaging two sites on the brain. The cushion of fluid is not enough to protect the brain — the result is a traumaticbrain injury called a concussion.
If your child had a sprain, bruise or even a break, you know how to treat it and you take it seriously. As a parent you can probably spot a bruise or scrape half a block away, but what if the injury is not visible? For a long time it was thought that concussion from accidents in sports such as football, hockey and other contact sports were simply a temporary malfunction, not a permanent injury.
Concussions are often viewed as minor events, accepted simply as a part of playing a sport. In reality, concussions are injuries to the brain that can have lasting effects. This is especially true for young, still-developing brains. Concussions are not always a one-time event: symptoms may be delayed, reappear or get worse.
It is not always simple to identify a concussion, but some of the signs to watch for include headache, general confusion or fogginess, nausea or vomiting, difficulty concentrating, irritability, dizziness, difficulty remembering, sadness, blurred vision, nervousness or anxiety, fatigue, sensitivity to light or noise and loss of consciousness. A previous concussion can increase the risk for another. In fact, a history of concussion is associated not only with subsequent concussion but also a prolonged duration of symptoms.
Some may think they ‘know all about’ concussions, but there are a number of myths floating around that should make you think. For example, ‘my son wears a good helmet so won’t have a concussion.’ Unfortunately, there is no helmet available that can concussion-proof your child. Or how about ‘my daughter did not lose consciousness so she probably doesn’t have one.’ This is not always the case, besides, symptoms can take time to emerge. Or how about ‘I am keeping him off the field until he’s better, but he can do anything else, of course.’ Concussions require both physical and mental rest beyond just avoiding the activity.
Aside from being alert for symptoms, there are tools readily available to help parents prevent, identify and manage concussions. A great place to start is at ParachuteCanada.org
where you will find links to their “Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool,” the “Smart Hockey Concussion Kit,” and more. Hockey Canada has smartphone apps to help identify and treat concussion. They are at www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/Mobile-Apps
Whatever helpful tools you acquire or knowledge you develop, here are a few crucial rules of thumb to keep in mind. First, BE ALERT: Know that concussions are brain injuries; BE SAFE: Check out ParachuteCanada’s Concussions Tip Sheet; and BE AWARE: Know how to manage concussions. And perhaps the best advice: When in doubt, sit them out! (during an activity); and when in doubt, check them out! (see a doctor).
Concussions are more than inconvenient, they are dangerous and potentially life-altering. Keep that in mind every time your child hits the ice or the field, or for that matter, when they’re playing in the back yard or cycling in the neighbourhood. Concussions are not always sport-related.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.