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Heads Up

Ask a doctor at Tufts Medical Center’schild wearing football helmet Pediatric Emergency Department what season it is and you won’t hear about summer, fall, winter or spring. Around here, there are only two seasons: respiratory and trauma. Fall is still trauma season—and pediatric concussions head the list, thanks to outdoor activities and contact sports. Let’s take a close look with Emory Petrack, MD, Chief of Pediatric Emergency.

No two concussions are the same

While contact sports like football and soccer often cause head injuries, a pediatric concussion can happen from something as small as two toddlers bumping heads—or a more serious fall down stairs. The real question is: How severe is it? “Different children with the same impact will act differently,” says Dr. Petrack. “That’s why we do a full neurological exam.”

Examining the symptoms

“We test the motor and sensory systems, pupil response, strength and reflexes, among other things,” explains Dr. Petrack. “We’re looking for normal versus abnormal.” 

Early symptoms of a concussion often indicate how patients will recover. For example, a child suffering a mild concussion may show symptoms of vomiting and headache, but will typically pass the neurological exam and recover in a few days. A child who responds abnormally—confused, acting oddly, repeating things—may have a more severe concussion where postconcussive symptoms can linger longer.

Recovery and prevention

As children recover from a concussion, it’s important to minimize stimuli. That means no TV, video games or loud music (sorry, kids). It also means being patient before reengaging in strenuous or even normal activities—including cognitive activities like a school project. “The brain needs time to recover,” says Dr. Petrack.

Be aware of recurrent head injuries, too. A child hurt by multiple concussions even weeks or months apart can face serious long-term health risks. Think about prevention; make sure your child wears appropriate helmets for contact sports and bicycling. And know what to do if he or she shows signs of a concussion: vomiting, headache or confusion.

“Call your pediatrician immediately,” recommends Dr. Petrack. “If it seems urgent or you’re concerned, go to the emergency department and get evaluated.”



Our Pediatric ED physicians generally see patients within 20 minutes of arrival—much faster than other nearby emergency departments. Our pediatric specialists are available around the clock, seven days a week. Tufts Medical Center’s Concussion Program can be reached at 617-636-8100.