Concussions and brain injuries in student athletes are on the rise.
Emergency room visits by children and teens for brain injuries resulting from sports or recreational activities jumped from more than 153,000 in 2001 to nearly 250,000 in 2009. The majority of those incidents occurred in middle and high school students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But those figures may only represent a fraction of the concussions students experienced.
Fifty percent of parents don't seek medical treatment when they think their child may have a concussion, according to preliminary findings presented last week at the American Osteopathic Association's annual meeting. Seventy percent of those surveyed couldn't even identify the symptoms of a concussion, the AOA reported.
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Recognizing the signs of a head injury is imperative for parents no matter what sport their teen plays. Full-contact sports such as football garner the most attention, but soccer players and wrestlers also have a high incidence of concussions, according to a January 2012 report in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
While the risk factors for a head injury can vary by sport--heading the ball led to 60 percent of the concussions in soccer players, while takedowns were the leading cause for wrestlers--there are a few tell-tale signs experts say parents should look out for:
-- Confusion, clumsiness, and trouble concentrating
-- Changes is sleeping habits, mood, or behavior
-- Nausea, dizziness, or vomiting
-- Feeling groggy or complaining of a headache
If a teen presents even one of these symptoms after a practice or a game--even if it is hours or days later--parents should seek medical attention and alert their child's coaches. Parents should also ask coaches and trainers before the season starts whether they have a detailed plan in place for identifying and managing head injuries.
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Giving teens ample time to recover from a concussion is also important--and recovery doesn't just mean sitting out a game or two. Playing video games, working on a computer, driving, and even studying can heighten the symptoms of a head injury, according to the CDC's fact sheet for parents.
When a teen is cleared to get back on the court, field, mat, or gym, parents and coaches should keep a keen eye out for any symptoms down the road. Student athletes are more likely to get a concussion if they've had one in the past, experts say, and the impact of repeat head injuries can be especially damaging at a time when your child's cognitive processes are still developing.
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