It’s that time when kids are returning to school, the playground, organized sports, and bicycle riding – and it’s all fun until somebody whacks their head.
Parents, you can help protect your kids from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). A TBI is caused by a bump, jolt or blow to the head that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth, creating chemical changes and sometimes damaging brain cells.
Even without a direct hit, jarring during a sports game or athletic event might create some lingering symptoms even weeks down the road. The symptoms of a TBI can take days or even weeks to show up, and can cause a range of problems.
“Depending on what activities your children participate in, it’s good to know if protocols are in place to protect them, and that coaches are following those protocols,” says Dr. Juan Pablo Solano, a specialist in pediatric TBIs at the University of Miami Health System. “TBIs are serious and our goal is to prevent them, more than treat them.”
New CDC recommendations
Just in time for TBI awareness month, the CDC published a new guideline on the treatment and management of mTBI (or concussion). As part of the new guideline, the CDC has recommended five key recommendations for healthcare providers. These include:
- It is not necessary to routinely image patients to make a diagnosis
- Age appropriate symptom scales should be used for diagnosis
- When creating a treatment plan, assess risk factors for prolonged recovery
- Instructions for a return to activity should be customized to the patient’s symptoms
- Parents should be advised that children can gradually return to activities after two to three days of rest.
How can I tell if my child has a possible concussion or TBI?
There are a few symptoms to look for:
- A loss of hand-eye coordination, which is important from everything from putting a key in a lock to tying your shoes, or dropping or bumping into objects on a more frequent basis.
- Vision problems. If children complain that suddenly find objects are blurry or difficult to recognize, they are seeing double, or lose peripheral vision or completely lose vision in one or both eyes, ask if they have recently hit their head.
- Your normally happy-go-lucky kid starts having feelings of sadness or angry outbursts that aren’t attached to any emotional event, which could mean the part of the brain that controls impulses might have been affected by the injury.
- Headaches can be a side effect of a TBI in up to 50-percent of patients, and the pain can be non-specific or localized to the area where the injury occurred.
- Lack of concentration can occur, ranging from forgetting how to get to a familiar place to being able to focus on a regular task.
- Nausea or dizziness that can’t be traced to an illness can be symptoms related to a mild TBI.
- Basic language and communication skills might be affected. This can be as simple as forgetting common words, or losing the ability to speak or write in complete sentences.
“If you already have a pre-existing brain injury and receive another blow to the head, even years later, the effects can be multiplied, because your brain is already damaged and vulnerable,” says Dr. Solano.
If you think your child has been injured, seek medical help right away.
Keep them out of play for as long as the protocol requires after symptoms are gone; and make sure the coach knows of any previous concussions or TBIs.
To prevent your children having a TBI, the CDC’s Heads Up Concussion Prevention program recommends:
- Following their coach’s rules for safety and the rules of the sport
- Practicing good sportsmanship at all times.
- Wearing the right protective equipment for their activity and that it fits properly and is well maintained.
- Wearing helmets to reduce the risk of a TBI.
- Remembering there is no TBI-proof helmet, and that they also have to avoid hits to the head.
If you think your child has had a head injury, you can call for an appointment: 305-243-2074 or for more information, visit: UCONCUSSION.com.
Mary Jo Blackwood, RN, MPH, is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. Based in St. Louis, MO, and Colorado, she has written medical articles and webpages for consumer publications and major university health centers.