Concussions have been in the news a lot lately, particularly when they relate to children. Awareness about the dangers of concussions has changed how schools, coaches and parents watch for and treat this kind of injury. A new study released this week points out that some concussion side effects can last longer than thought.
Children who suffer even a mild concussion can have attention and memory problems a year after their injury.
The study results were published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and suggest that problems such as forgetfulness, dizziness, and fatigue may linger for up to about 20 percent after an accident.
Forgetfulness, difficulty paying attention, headaches and fatigue were more common in study children who lost consciousness or who had other mild head trauma that caused brain abnormalities on imaging tests, compared with kids who didn't get knocked out or who had normal imaging test results.
Longer lasting symptoms were not determined since the study only followed children for a year after their injury. For that year though, children who had injury-related symptoms experienced "significant functional impairment in their daily lives."
"What parents want to know is if my kid is going to do OK. Most do OK, but we have to get better at predicting which kids are going to have problems," said study author Keith Owen Yeates, a Neuropsychologist at Ohio State University's Center for Biobehaviorial Health.
Children who have concussion symptoms may need temporary accommodations such as extra time taking school tests, or wearing sunglasses if bright light gives them headaches, Yeates said.
Most of the children in the study received their concussion from a sports related injury or fall, but about 20 percent had a mild brain trauma injury from a traffic accident or some other cause.
The study included 186 children, aged 8 to 15, with mild concussions and other mild brain injuries treated at two hospitals in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. The reports are based on parents' reports of symptoms up to 12 months after the injuries.
The brain injuries studied were considered mild because they involved no more than half an hour of unconsciousness; 60 percent of kids with concussions or other brain trauma had no loss of consciousness.
Overall, 20 percent who lost consciousness had lingering forgetfulness or other non-physical problems a year after their injury; while 20 percent who had abnormal brain scans had lingering headaches or other physical problems three months after being injured.
The study adds to research showing that mild traumatic brain injuries, including concussions "should not necessarily be treated as minor injuries," Dr. Frederick Rivara, Archives' editor, said in a journal editorial.
More information is needed to determine who is most at risk for lingering problems after these injuries, and to determine what type of treatment and activity restriction is needed, said Rivara, a pediatrician and University of Washington researcher.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way the brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a ding, getting your bell rung, or what seems to be mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.
According to the CDC, if your child has any symptoms of a concussion - which include different sleeping patterns, mood changes or problems with cognitive processes - you should bring them to a medical professional. If the child is having a headache that won't go away, weakness or decreased coordination, vomiting or nausea, slurred speech, will not nurse or eat and/or is crying and cannot be consoled, they need to be taken to a hospital immediately.