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Use Your Head

Dr. Anthony Rodrigues, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist and specialist in chronic pain and headaches at Tufts Medical Center’s Tufts Medical Center answers questions about childhood concussion. When should parents worry?

Q. What qualifies as a concussion, versus a bad bump on the head?
A. There is no objective testing for a concussion. If a youth suffers an injury to the head or body, look for symptoms such as confusion, headache, amnesia, nausea, disorientation and dizziness. Symptoms can develop right away or hours (even the next day) after the injury.

Q. How are concussions different for young people?
A. It’s important to note that adult brains heal faster. So while professional athletes may suffer a concussion and return to the playing field two weeks later, a child with a concussion could take months to recover. Not only are children’s brains softer and still developing, their neck muscles are not as strong as adults, so the head is more likely to undergo the acceleration/deceleration phenomenon that leads to concussions.

Q. What should parents do if they suspect concussion?
A. If a concussion is suspected, children should be kept away from physical activity and visit their pediatrician immediately to get a plan in place for recovery. The treatment for a concussion is rest and that means ramping down on school work. With the child’s doctor, work out a plan that allows for missing some school, frequent classroom breaks, fewer tests and less homework. If the symptoms don’t get better after a few weeks, you should consult a neurologist.

Q. Why is a second concussion during recovery so dangerous?
A. When the brain is not allowed to recover and another concussion occurs, it often cannot accommodate the second impact, causing severe brain swelling. In extreme cases, this syndrome, called Second Impact Syndrome, can lead to death. It can also lead to prolonged symptoms and impairment later in life. Allowing your child enough time to recover so that all symptoms subside is the key to continued brain health.