Falling or being hit by an object can be a common childhood event and are the leading causes of concussions in children. Further, research indicates that a child who has suffered one concussion becomes more vulnerable and at risk for suffering a second one.
There is still much to learn about pediatric concussion, says Dr. Patricia Kelshaw, PhD, LAT, ATC, and certified athletic trainer. “We’re still very, very early in understanding concussion in children. What we know is that if concussion is managed appropriately, it’s really quite feasible to get through it and recover. However, when it’s not managed appropriately, complications can develop, post-concussion.”
If you suspect a concussion has occurred, it is critical that you take immediate action that prevents the child from hitting their head again.
Children who have suffered a concussion are at a higher risk of Secondary Impact Syndrome, explains Dr. Kelshaw. “Young people who have suffered a concussion are in a relatively acute recovery phase for a week or two following that event. And if during that time, they suffer another impact to the head, there is a strong possibility that can possibly be fatal,” she says.
This fact is what prompted the legislation found in all 50 states that forbids youth athletes from returning to play within a minimum of 24 hours after suffering a suspected concussion. In Virginia, legislation also requires policies within school and recreational athletic programs to inform and educate coaches, student athletes and their parents or guardians, of the nature and risk of concussions, steps to take if a concussion is suspected and the effects of concussions on student athletes’ academic performance. Medical clearance also must be received before the individual can resume their previous activities.
Research also indicates that children with pre-existing health conditions may have a longer recovery, as well as have different post-concussion reactions when their condition is being assessed. For example, says Dr. Kelshaw, “We know that children with ADHD will perform differently than children without ADHD.”
Dr. Kelshaw continues, “We also know that depression is a high risk for post-concussion patients. Again, there is much to learn so that it can be monitored and treated appropriately.”
While there is extensive information about identifying and treating concussion in adults and, to some extent, high school athletes, research on concussion among children has lagged far behind. “By focusing on childhood concussion, we can identify appropriate treatment and get children back to school, back to their activities, and back to their normal quality of life safely and effectively,” says Dr. Kelshaw.
For more information on traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, contact the Virginia Department of Health at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/injury-and-violence-prevention/ or the Virginia Concussion Initiative at concussion.gmu.edu.