Concussions can have a long-term impact on kids

November 29, 2018
A recent study finds that some children may be more susceptible to concussion symptoms up to a year after the injury.
  • Concussions can have lasting effects on kids for up to a year after injury.
  • It's important for parents to recognize the symptoms of concussions.
  • Some children are more likely to experience persistent concussion issues than others.

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the dangers caused by concussions, especially for children. Now, according to a new study, those consequences may be even more serious than anyone knew.

Concussions, which are considered mild traumatic brain injuries, may affect a child's physical, emotional, and mental health for up to a year after the injury. That's according to a recent study published in Pediatrics, which studied almost 350 children ages 4 to 15 who had a concussion and found that up to 31% of them showed long-term symptoms such as fatigue, impatience and the inability to concentrate. The study highlights how important it is to know the symptoms caused by this kind of brain injury so children can get the proper treatment as soon as possible.

How to tell if your child has a concussion

Concussions can be caused by falls or hits, such as the kind that can happen in sports ranging from football to cheerleading. Between 1 million and 2 million children have a mild traumatic brain injury every year in America, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

When a concussion happens, it jars the brain and impairs cognitive function. This is especially problematic in children younger than 15, who may experience a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Their thought process, memory and ability to concentrate can all be affected. That is why the AAP recommends that kids who have suffered a concussion stay home from school for a few days, until their symptoms have dissipated. It can take longer than that—an average of more than three weeks—for a child to heal and return to any kind of physical activity.

There are several symptoms that can indicate to parents that their child has suffered a concussion:

  • Brief loss of consciousness after impact
  • Dazed or stunned sensation
  • Confusion and forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness or loss of balance
  • Inability to recall events that occurred before or after the injury
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Vision problems
  • Light or noise sensitivity

Often, the physical symptoms gradually go away, and the child resumes normal activity. But parents still need to watch for other, less tangible, symptoms.

The long-term impact of concussion

The recent study stated that while physical symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury are often readily apparent, it may take weeks or months for mental or emotional changes, such as shifts in behavior or mood to manifest themselves.

The study also found that some kids were more susceptible to prolonged problems. For instance, girls were twice as likely to have symptoms a year after concussion than boys. Also, children who lived in a home without strong communication or support in place didn't recover as well as kids in a more stable environment. Children who lived in economically disadvantaged homes or had preexisting emotional issues were also more likely to suffer long-term symptoms.

Because the study noted that persistent concussion problems can affect a child at school and at home, it is crucial for parents to keep a close eye on their child in the weeks following a mild traumatic brain injury. If a month goes by and there still seem to be lingering problems, the child should be checked by a pediatrician.

In the event that the concussion has had a pervasive effect on a child's health, it's recommended that parents and physicians work together to bring about healing. That can include strategies such as medication or cognitive behavior therapy. Parents, teachers, coaches and other trusted adults in the child's life should also keep an eye out for any warning signs of depression and anxiety that could signal deeper emotional or mental trauma. Finally, parents shouldn't rush to get their child back on the playing field or court. Every child can experience a concussion differently, and decisions on returning to the normal demands of athletics and academics should be made on an individual basis.

The Swedish Sports Concussion Clinic provides comprehensive concussion management for children and adults.

Learn more about Swedish Spine, Sports & Musculoskeletal Medicine. Need a doctor for your child? Find a Swedish provider near you.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

Topics: Kids