Whether it’s you or your child, concussions can happen, especially when playing sports. A concussion is a form of brain injury that leads to you losing your normal brain function temporarily, though its severity can vary depending on the trauma. Concussions are usually a result of a blow to your head. Often, you don’t have any signs of external head trauma or lose consciousness, contrary to what many people believe.
Over 300,000 sports-related concussions occur each year in the United States. In fact, the chances of someone participating in a contact sport suffering a concussion is nearly 19 percent each year of play, according to estimates by the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center.
Among college football players and high school-aged contact sports, over 62,000 concussions occur each year, with up to 20 percent enduring more than one concussion, reports the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion
- Memory loss
- Feeling tired
- Ear ringing
- Feeling confused
- Feeling faint
- Balance problems
- Blurred or double vision
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slowed reaction to stimuli
Your symptoms may come on suddenly or it could take anywhere from a couple hours to months after your injury. You might also feel dazed.
How to Prevent a Concussion
The only way you can protect yourself or your child from a concussion is to prevent them entirely. Below are some prevention tips.
- Protect yourself. Wear a helmet. While they don’t completely protect you against a concussion, they do reduce your risk of a head injury.
- Follow the rules. Dirty and overly aggressive play in contact sports can result in a head injury. In games like ice hockey, football or soccer, parents, players, staff and coaches need to insist on following the rules.
- Check with coaches. Ensure the coach and league are taking precautions to lessen the risk of head injuries. Are they paying attention to the safety of players? Are they educating themselves on concussions?
- Participate in training. Strengthening your shoulder and neck muscles will help reduce your risk of concussion. Strength training working those areas may train your body in absorbing the shock of a head blow.
- Don’t ignore light blows. Even minor head blows that haven’t reached concussion level can pose a threat. Too many head blows can damage the brain’s connection and make it difficult for it to properly function.
- Encourage children to report symptoms. Children often keep quiet about their symptoms because they don’t feel their injury is serious enough or they don’t want to let other players down. Encourage your kids to tell their coach or anyone in charge if they get a blow to the head, regardless if they have symptoms or not, but especially if they experience any of the symptoms above.
Treatments for a Concussion
To give your brain time to recover from a concussion, you need adequate rest. Your physician will likely recommend you mentally and physically rest. This means you should avoid any activity that could increase any symptoms you’re experiencing. Activities to avoid may include:
- General physical exertion
- Vigorous movements
Your “prescribed” rest will also include limiting certain activities that require you to concentrate and think such as:
- Watching TV
- Using a computer
- Playing video games
- Doing homework
If you’re experiencing a headache, you can try acetaminophen (Tylenol). But, don’t take pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil) since they increase your risk of bleeding.
Your physician will let you know when you can resume light physical activity safely. They may say it’s okay to perform light physical activity, such as taking a walk or doing some non-strenuous, slow-jogging while you still have some symptoms as long as they don’t make them worse. Once your concussion symptoms have disappeared, you can sit down with your physician and talk about the idea of returning to your sports game safely.