When Your Child Has a Concussion, “Wait and Rest” Is Not Good Enough
Picture this: Your child comes home from school or sports practice with a bump on his head. His pupils are dilated, and he says he feels sick. After a visit to the doctor, you get the diagnosis: It’s a concussion. “No physical activity, no TV, no video games, and no reading. Just rest your body and your brain for a few days” is the “prescription” your child receives.
Yes, this is standard post-concussion advice—but often, the “wait and rest” approach is not enough. When not treated properly, concussions (which are a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI) can have serious consequences that affect children for the rest of their lives. If you think your child may have suffered a concussion, you need to insist on more aggressive action.
The odds are good that at some point, you’ll be faced with this decision. A football tackle, being hit with a baseball or softball, and even heading a soccer ball can result in head injuries. But youngsters hardly need to put on a uniform to become concussed—falls, everyday play, and automobile accidents can have the same outcome.
As kids grow up, their risk of concussion is significant. The Brain Injury Association of America reports that each year, an average of 62,000 children are hospitalized as a result of brain injuries; 564,000 more are seen in hospital ERs and released. (This number does not include children who are seen by pediatricians and primary care providers, or who don’t receive medical attention at all after a possible head injury.)
What’s more, the number of concussed children and teens is on the rise. According to the CDC, between 2001 to 2009, the rate of sports- and recreation-related ER visits that resulted in a diagnosis of concussion or TBI went up 57 percent for children under 19.
5 Frequently Asked Questions
It’s crucial for parents, coaches, teachers, and anyone else who supervises children to be familiar with the symptoms and effects of concussions, as well as their treatment.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
The immediate effects of a concussion can be subtle, or very noticeable. Some of the most common post-concussive symptoms include:
- Visual blurring
- Light sensitivity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Memory dysfunction
Why are concussions serious?
We all know that a concussion is a type of head injury—but it’s more than just a bump or a bruise. Concussions are serious because they are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). As the result of a sudden blow, jolt, or change of direction (e.g., whiplash), the brain suddenly shifts within the skull. This can result in torn nerve axons, bruising, and damage to blood vessels. If not treated properly, damage and inflammation can adversely affect brain function, even long after the initial injury.
What if my child has previously suffered a concussion?
Multiple concussions are especially damaging. If a child is concussed a second time while a previous brain injury is still healing, she may experience more serious symptoms, a longer recovery time, and even permanent cognitive and neurological damage. Since TBI is not a visible injury, multiple concussions are a major concern. Many children return to sports or other risky activities before they have fully healed. For this reason, it’s crucial for parents and coaches to fully follow doctors’ advice.
Are there any long-term effects?
Yes—and they’re alarming. Because children’s brains are still growing, they are especially vulnerable to concussions. The damage caused by TBI can impede or impair normal development. Potential long-term effects of childhood concussions include abnormal brain activity that lasts for years, memory problems, attention deficits, difficulty handling anger, language impairment, personality changes, difficulty making decisions, “foggy” thinking, and more.
The bottom line is, a childhood concussion can adversely affect a child’s personal and professional success for the rest of his life.
I think my child may be concussed—what now?
If your child suffers from a concussion (or one is suspected), you’ll most likely be advised to make sure that she rests physically and mentally for a few days. But once again, don’t stop there. The biggest mistake most parents and coaches make is assuming that everything is okay when a youngster appears to have returned to normal after a few days of downtime. Fortunately, the more we learn about the brain, the better we’re able to treat concussions and prevent negative long-term effects.
Concussion Diagnosis and Treatment at The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center
The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center in Fairfield, CT offers a number of cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment options. We will work with you to determine which of the following are best for your child.
When a child suffers a head injury, schedule an evaluation by a health professional as soon as possible. Besides a thorough physical exam, The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center uses these tools to diagnose concussions and TBI:
- Neurocognitive Testing. The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center uses CNS Vital signs, a 30- to 40-minute computerized test, to evaluate neurocognitive function. In order to obtain the most accurate results after a possible concussion, neurocognitive testing is compared to a previously obtained baseline. Baseline information can be stored in case of a head injury; alternatively, it can be immediately analyzed to see how the patient’s athletic or scholastic performance might be improved.
- Brain Imaging (EEG). An electroencephalogram (EEG) is one of the most accurate tools to measure the functioning of the brain. Employing sLORETA technology to measure electrical function deep in the brain, The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center can more accurately image the impact area and detect brain wave patterns that are unique to head injuries. As with neurocognitive testing, it’s a good idea to get a pre-season baseline EEG. This can help us evaluate the severity of the injury and determine when it’s safe for your child to return to prior activities.
We highly recommend that children and teens get a baseline test (see video) prior to the beginning of their athletic season. Consider getting baseline tests as a team. Inquire about special team testing discounts for both neurocognitive and EEG baselines.
Did you know? Certain genotypes are associated with a greater likelihood of having long-term cognitive issues after TBI. A simple genetic test can help you decide if your child should participate (or continue to participate) in sports or other physical activities.
In most cases, the traditional “rest and wait” treatment will resolve the immediate effects of a concussion. But to support recovery and guard against long-term damage, it’s wise to employ more proactive treatments that help the brain heal. The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center offers the following:
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). After patients are placed inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber with an oxygen concentration of 100 percent, the chamber is slowly raised between 1.5 to 2 times the normal atmospheric pressure. This allows more oxygen to enter the bloodstream and cerebral spinal fluid, and where oxygen concentration is increased, inflammation is reduced and healing is enhanced. Research has shown that HBOT dramatically improves both blood flow and function in the brain after injury.
- Neurofeedback. As patients’ brain waves are read in real time, special software gives rewards—for example, audible feedback or making a movie brighter—when optimal brain wave patterns occur. This prompts the brain to subconsciously re-pattern itself.
- Altitude Contrast Training (ACT). During short periods of training, patients breathe oxygen through a mask. For several minutes the oxygen concentration is at 100 percent. It is then reduced for a short period of time to 15 percent concentration, which causes the blood vessels to dilate. Oxygen is then brought back up to 100 percent, flooding the dilated blood vessels and tissues with healing oxygen. Swelling is reduced and the byproducts of inflammation are carried away by the circulatory system.
- Phototherapy. Phototherapy, or light therapy, has been used for many years. However, the advent of lasers has allowed greater healing effects to be harnessed. In laser light therapy, the brain cells’ mitochondria absorb the laser’s photonic energy. This increases ATP (the energy molecule of the cell), DNA, and RNA synthesis, which decreases inflammation and quite possibly promotes the growth of new neurons.
- Homeopathy. Homeopathic medicine uses highly diluted natural substances to stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities. This gentle yet effective medicine can yield almost instantaneous results. In particular, Arnica montana is an incredibly effective remedy for acute traumatic injuries. It is typically the first remedy given after a concussion. Other remedies may follow depending on the symptoms a patient is presenting.
- Nutrition and Nutraceuticals. The inflammatory cascade that occurs following TBI is likely one of the key causes of continued symptoms. The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center recommends nutrients to target neurons’ energy systems, enhance intercellular communication, and support healthy blood flow. Additionally, we may recommend that strong antioxidants be incorporated into a patient’s diet while pro-inflammatory foods (like sugar and gluten) are eliminated.
- System Detoxification. Toxins from our environment (such as mercury, aluminum, and chemicals found in pesticides) are one of the most potent causes of cellular dysregulation and inflammation. As the result of constant toxin exposure, the brain is already in an inflamed state and is less likely to be able to stop the inflammatory process if a trauma occurs. At The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center, we help patients lower their toxic load and believe this is one of the keys to allowing the body and brain to heal.
To make an appointment, please call The NeuroEdge Brain Performance Center at 203-371-8258. We see patients from Fairfield, Westport, Greenwich and surrounding areas.