Does my child have a concussion?

Contrary to popular opinion, a child does not need to be knocked out, even briefly, to have a concussion. Here is a list of concussion signs and symptoms.

A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by a blow to the head (or to another part of the body that jolts the head). Two members of my immediate family have had concussions in the last 3 months. Ouch! Their recovery has been good, but slow.

Contrary to what I was taught in medical school, a child does not need to be knocked out, even briefly, to have a concussion. Most concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness.

As we learn more about how the brain works we are also learning more about what happens when the brain gets injured – and what to do about it. Our understanding of concussions is very different today than it was 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. Or even last year – before the first comprehensive Guidelines for Pediatric Concussion were published in June 2014.

These guidelines are for children age 5 and up who may have had a concussion in the previous month. The guidelines include separate recommendations for their health care professionals, for their schools and sports organizations, and for their parents and caregivers.

Do You Know the Clues to a Concussion?

The first recommendation for parents is to learn to recognize the clues to a concussion.

Here is a pocket tool you can print and keep in the glove compartment or scan and keep on your phone (in Evernote?). It covers signs, symptoms, a quick memory test, and other clues.

An x-ray, MRI, or CT scan can’t ‘see’ a concussion. But a parent can often see visible clues.

In addition to the signs and symptoms in the pocket tool, if you see one or more of these, suspect a concussion:

  • Loss of consciousness/responsiveness
  • Slowness getting up after the head injury
  • Grabbing/clutching the head
  • Unsteadiness on the feet/balance problems/falling/decreased coordination
  • Dazed, blank, or vacant look
  • Confused/can’t recall recent events/forgets something you said
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Mood, behavior or personality changes

Other reasons to pay attention include reports of any of the following:

  • Seeing stars or flashing lights
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Double vision, blurry vision, or vision loss
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Bad or worsening headache (or pressure in the head)
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating

After a head injury, any child who exhibits the signs, symptoms, memory problems, or visible clues of a concussion should be evaluated by a health professional.

These symptoms may not show up for a day or two after the injury. “If in doubt, sit them out” until after they have been evaluated. Sitting them out includes sitting out from sports and school. Early rest for the brain is important for healing.

Concussions are big deal. Recognizing possible concussions can help kids get the treatment they need to speed recovery and prevent re-injury.



Published on: January 19, 2015
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

As a high school ofaificl I have seen the evolution of concern over concussions, and rightly so over the last several years. A release was just sent out 2 days ago by the PIAA, the governing body for school sports in PA. It itemized the rules to be followed if an athlete shows any signs of concussion at all. He/she may not re-enter the game unless a doctor (not a trainer) is on staff at the game and authorizes it. In other words that athlete is pretty much done if the the ofaificl feels so. I believe this is the right approach. In my 39 years of officiating I’ve seen some serious head injuries that were not treated with the same caution and could have resulted in tragedies. When I was a football player years ago I suffered several concussions, and went back in the game. I remember that feeling, and it was very unpleasant, but I did what the coach told me to do. This is why informed adults need to be in charge of situations like this, because the athletes will do whatever the coach instructs.