Dr. Randy Martin: A recent report said that there is a major increase in the number of children visiting the emergency room for suspected concussions. I met with Dr. Andrew Reisner, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, to discuss what exactly concussions are and what you need to know to protect your children.
According to a recent report for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the number of traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, is on the rise among children and adolescents. In fact, the number of these types of sports- and recreation-related injuries has increased by a staggering 60 percent in the past decade.
So what is responsible for the significant increase of these injuries?
“There is increased participation in contact sports and perhaps more importantly, a heightened awareness among the general public, coaches and healthcare providers of the signs and symptoms of concussions,” says Andrew Reisner, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon and medical director of the Concussion Program and Neuro Trauma department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
The “anatomy” of a concussion
There are several theories about what exactly happens when a concussion occurs. “The theories include a vascular theory that at the time of impact, there is a decrease in the amount of blood flow to the vital areas of the brain,” he says. “The second theory is the concussive theory, where there may be seizure-like activity deep inside the brain that causes the manifestations of a concussion.”
There can also be serious consequences if a child were to suffer a second traumatic head injury. “If you have not fully recovered from the first injury and you sustain a second injury, the effects of the second trauma are much more deleterious than having a single injury alone,” says Dr. Reisner.
The manifestations of a concussion fall into three groups, he says:
- Cognitive – How you are thinking
- Semantic – How your body feels
If a concussion does not run its usual course, a child may experience the following issues. If any of these symptoms occur, consider them a red flag and seek immediate medical attention.
- A headache that worsens
- Vomiting that is profuse and worsens
- Focal neurological deficit, which occurs when part of the body isn’t working properly. For example, a child may have trouble moving his or her arms or legs.
“If the child has any worsening of these symptoms, then it would be very reasonable to have that child assessed,” says Dr. Reisner.
Dr. Martin: As Dr. Reisner has told us, prevention and awareness are key when it comes to concussions. If you have any doubts that your child is properly recovering, take them to see a medical specialist immediately.