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Football Risks from Concussions

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Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“This phenomenon is where you get rapid brain swelling and death; it’s 80 percent mortality. It’s thought to be caused by having a second head injury prior to recovery from the first.”

– Dr. David Wright, M.D., emergency medicine, Emory University

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More than 3 million high school athletes will suffer from a sports-related injury this year. Among the most dangerous are concussions. Many times concussions are difficult to detect and unfortunately, athletes are often put back in the game too soon.

“My head’s pounding and ringing. I kind of fell to my knees and looked up and guys were saying ‘you better go tell the trainer,'” says Cameron, 16.

Cameron got hit in the head during a game. After that, for a couple of days, he had a mild headache, and then…

“My headache had intensified and I could barely walk,” says Cameron.

Cameron had a concussion. According to new research, it turns out they are far more common than previously thought.

“This particular study that was quoted in the American Journal of Sports Medicine estimated a concussion rate of around 10 to12 percent, which is higher than what we’ve previously seen in other studies, [which was] around six to seven percent,” says Dr. Thomas Byars, M.D., Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Experts say that concussions can be especially risky if an athlete is injured again before the first injury has healed. It’s called second impact syndrome.

“This phenomenon is where you get rapid brain swelling and death; it’s 80% mortality. It’s thought to be caused by having a second head injury prior to recovery from the first,” says Dr. David Wright, M.D., emergency medicine, Emory University.

Doctors say that parents and coaches need to know the symptoms of a concussion: headache, dizziness, blurred vision, and irritability. Coaches should also know that some kids will ignore those symptoms because they’ve been taught to play through the pain.

“Especially high school boys … who are really excited about their game, want to get back in and want to play with their teammates,” says Byars.

“I mean I knew playing football there’s going be a risk, but I didn’t really think too much of it,” says Cameron.

What We Need To Know

Detecting a concussion can be difficult because usually no visible injuries are present. Therefore, it is extremely important for parents to familiarize themselves with the symptoms associated with a serious head injury. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) suggests looking for the following signs if you suspect a concussion in your child:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Ringing ears
  • Nausea
  • Vision disturbance
  • Loss of balance
  • Memory loss (amnesia)
  • Difficulty concentrating

Children can have the same symptoms of brain injury as adults. However, it is more difficult for young children to let others know how they are feeling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that parents be aware of these additional warning signs of a concussion in a young child:

  • Listlessness and tiring easily
  • Irritability and crankiness
  • Change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Change in the way he or she plays
  • Change in the way he or she performs or acts at school
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys
  • Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
  • Loss of balance or unsteady walking

If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Early diagnosis can help prevent serious side effects from occurring. The AAFP says that your child’s doctor will likely perform the following tasks during the diagnosis:

  • The doctor will perform a thorough examination of your child, including a test of your child’s strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory.
  • He or she will obtain information from those who witnessed your child’s injury. This step is very important, especially if your child is confused or if he or she has lost his or her memory of the injury.
  • In more serious cases, the doctor will order special X-rays of your child’s head, called computed tomographic scans or magnetic resonance images (MRI).

Once your child is diagnosed with a concussion, the best treatment is rest. The CDC says that you can help your child’s healing process by following these guidelines:

  • Ensure that your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Make sure your child avoids activities that could result in a second blow or jolt to the head, such as riding a bicycle, playing sports or climbing playground equipment, until the doctor says he or she is well enough to take part in these activities.
  • Give your child only those drugs that the doctor has approved.
  • Talk with the doctor about when your child should return to school and other activities and how to deal with the challenges your child may face.
  • Share information about concussion with teachers, counselors, babysitters, coaches and others who interact with your child so they can understand what has happened and help meet your child’s needs.

Remember that if your child has suffered from a concussion once, he or she is more likely to suffer again. Therefore, prevention is extremely important. The Mayo Clinic provides the following rules to teach your child so that he or she can help prevent further injury:

  • Wear a helmet during recreational activities. When bicycling, motorcycling, skiing, horseback riding, skating or engaging in any recreational activity that may result in head injury, wear protective headgear. Wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of serious head injury by as much as 85 percent and lowers the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. In fact, if each rider wore a helmet, an estimated 500 bicycle-related fatalities and 151,000 non-fatal head injuries would be prevented each year in the United States.
  • Buckle your seat belt. Wearing a seat belt may prevent serious injury, including an injury to your head, during a traffic accident.
  • Wear safety equipment while participating in competitive team sports. Properly fitting and appropriate safety equipment may protect your child from injury during the contact that is involved in many sports.
  • Make your home fall proof. Keep your home well-lit and free of situations that might cause family members to trip and fall. Falls around the home are the leading cause of head injury for infants, toddlers and older adults. In addition, pad countertops and edges of tables, block off stairways and keep your child from climbing on unsafe or unsteady objects.

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