A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to shake. The shaking can cause the brain to not work normally and can result in serious side effects. Each year, thousands of children and youth are diagnosed with concussion — only half are sports related.
Concussions can occur even when a child does not lose consciousness. In fact, only 10 percent of children with concussions report being “knocked out.” Some of the symptoms of a concussion can appear immediately after the injury, while others may not show up for several days. Symptoms may last days, weeks or months. Sometimes symptoms may be subtle and not obvious.
Your child’s doctor will ask a lot of questions to understand how the injury happened and what symptoms your child is experiencing. The doctor will do a physical exam to test your child’s head-and-neck range of motion, balance, eye movement and neurocognitive ability. For instance, your child may be asked to play a memory game that challenges his “delayed recall” ability. Your child may also be asked to take a computerized test to better understand how his brain is functioning; however, there is not a single test that can diagnose a concussion.
You cannot see a concussion on brain imaging, like a CT scan or an MRI, because brain imaging looks at the structure of the brain, and a concussion affects the function of the brain — not its structure. Doctors will use all of the information they have gathered to diagnose and manage your child’s concussion.
During follow-up visits, your child’s doctor may redo some of the exams to see if concussion symptoms are getting better.
The symptoms of a concussion are related to how well the brain cells are functioning and working together. The most common symptoms are:
Often, symptoms will worsen over a matter of days, and it is common for new symptoms to appear in the days following the injury. Symptoms may also worsen when the brain is stressed, for example, when a child is doing schoolwork or participating in a physical activity.
For children with pre-existing conditions, such as migraine headaches, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), visual disorders, and emotional and mental health conditions, concussion symptoms may be more severe or prolonged. It is important to know that a concussion may also worsen these underlying conditions and make them more difficult to control.
Contact your child’s primary care doctor for evaluation.
Sports Medicine and Performance Center
Pediatric Trauma Center