The Terrifying World of Childhood Concussions
Concussions, especially in children, can sometimes go unrecognized. That's because there may be a time-lag between the initial injury and symptoms. However, there are certain key clues that may be helpful in tracking down the causes of your child's symptoms that will lead to the proper diagnosis, as well as a plan to get your loved one back to their "normal" self.
What's a Concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain. It is most often caused by a direct injury to the head or a jolt to the body that causes the head to rapidly change direction and, as a result, “shakes” the brain. What happens next can be a “short circuiting” of the normal working of the brain cells. Kind of like a navigation system leading you to the wrong routes, concussions can cause the brain cells to “short circuit” and affect the way the pathways communicate to each other. This abnormal functioning of the brain has the potential to affect your child in many ways, including some that slowly seem to change the way they act and think.
The Physical Signs
You do not need to lose consciousness to have a concussion. In fact, most people who have a concussion were not “knocked out.”
Every person is different in regards to their signs and symptoms of concussion, but the most common physical symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Nausea and/or Vomiting
- Trouble with balance
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound (the music on the radio hurts their head)
- Blurry vision
- Slow reaction time
The Silent Three
The “silent” symptoms of concussion are most often noticed by observers such as parents, siblings or teachers. That’s because they are not physical symptoms that cause the child pain, but rather “thinking” problems that cause a change in how the child interacts with their environment. In other words, there is a potential change in one or more of the child’s usual pattern in the way they think, sleep or act.
While the changes may be subtle, those who know the child well would wonder what was wrong and if they were all right.
Trouble getting to sleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Sleeping less than usual
Sleeping more than usual
More tired during the day than usual
Change in personality
More irritable than usual
More sad or depressed than usual
More anxious or nervous than usual
More impatient than usual
More swings in emotion than usual
Change in their ability to learn new information
Change in their ability to remember
Change in their ability to concentrate
Complains of feeling like they are in a “fog”
Answerss questions “slowly” or seem to struggle in putting together an answer to a question
What To Do Next
If you suspect your child or loved one may have the signs or symptoms of a concussion, please make an appointment with their family physician or pediatrician.
It is important to note that a diagnosis of concussion cannot be made by a CT scan or MRI. Those tests can check for “physical signs” of injury, such as a fracture or bleeding, but they cannot diagnose the function or “thinking” signs of injury, such as those that occur from a concussion.
To help in the diagnosis of a concussion, the physician would put together the pieces of the information puzzle. This would include the child’s physical symptoms along with the information you supplied as to how they are acting, as well as a complete physical examination and possibly, a “memory game” to see how well the child can recall information.
If a concussion is suspected, the doctor may suggest a computerized type of examination known as neurocognitive testing. This tracks the child’s ability to think, concentrate, learn and reason. It is often most helpful to compare the results to their pre-injury neurocognitive test (many schools offer this before the sports season begins). However, even if they have not had this type of test before, they are often helpful as a guide to track how well your child is recovering “thinking-wise” from their concussion.
Lastly, healing the brain from a concussion takes time. This may mean avoidance of listening to the radio or watching television, as well as keeping activity to a minimum. It may be a few weeks or many months, but no matter the time frame, please keep a positive outlook, continue to check in with your child to see how they are feeling and doing, as well as keep in touch with their physician and school teachers.