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Parents of young athletes know that along with the many benefits of participating in sports, there comes a certain amount of injury risk. And while most would agree that the benefits of being active and involved in athletics outweigh those risks, it’s important to make sure your child gets proper treatment if an injury occurs. As more evidence surfaces about long-term health challenges related to concussions, it’s especially crucial that parents bring themselves up to speed on the proper procedures for caring for an athlete who experiences a concussion.
The most important thing parents need to know about concussions is that if an athlete exhibits any signs or experiences any symptoms of a concussion, he or she should be immediately removed from play. While this recommendation is nothing new, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) is again emphasizing its importance with the release of its updated 2013 sports concussion evidence-based guidelines.
“Among the most important recommendations the academy is making is that any athlete suspected of experiencing a concussion should immediately be removed from play,” says Christopher C. Giza, MD, co-author of the AAN guidelines. “We’ve moved away from the concussion grading systems we first established in 1997 and are now recommending concussion and return to play be assessed in each athlete individually. There is no set timeline for safe return to play.”
For parents unfamiliar with concussion signs and symptoms, they include:
* Headache and sensitivity to light or sound
* Changes to balance, coordination and reaction time
* Changes in memory, judgment, speech and sleep
* Loss of consciousness or a “blackout” (happens in less than 10 percent of cases)
Removal from play is just the first step in properly treating a concussion. After a player who is exhibiting concussion signs or having concussion symptoms is removed, it’s equally important that the player be examined by a licensed health care professional trained in diagnosing and managing concussions. “Being seen by a trained professional is extremely important after a concussion,” says Jeffrey S. Kutcher, MD, co-author of the AAN guidelines. “If headaches or other symptoms return with the start of exercise, stop the activity and consult a doctor.”
If your athlete is diagnosed with a concussion, it’s extremely important to follow the recommendations of the health care professional, and the athlete should not be permitted to resume any sports-related activities until he or she is cleared by a licensed health care professional to do so. Parents, coaches and officials should all work together to see that the health care professional’s recommendations are followed, ensuring the best possible short- and long-term outcome for the athlete.
Parents, coaches and officials should familiarize themselves with concussion protocols before they ever get to the field or court, but the AAN also offers a smartphone app should you need to review them. The Concussion Quick Check app can be downloaded free of charge and provides a handy guide to making sure your athlete gets the proper care.
In addition to emphasizing proper care for athletes exhibiting concussion symptoms, the new AAN guidelines include the following concussion-related findings:
* Among the sports in the studies evaluated, risk of concussion is greatest in football and rugby, followed by hockey and soccer. The risk of concussion for young women and girls is greatest in soccer and basketball.
* An athlete who has a history of one or more concussions is at greater risk for being diagnosed with another concussion.
* The first 10 days after a concussion appears to be the period of greatest risk for being diagnosed with another concussion.
* There is no clear evidence that one type of football helmet can better protect against concussion over another kind of helmet. Helmets should fit properly and be well maintained.
* Licensed health professionals trained in diagnosing and managing concussion should look for ongoing symptoms (especially headache and fogginess), history of concussions, and younger age in the athlete. Each of these factors has been linked to a longer recovery after a concussion.
* Risk factors linked to chronic neurobehavioral impairment in professional athletes include prior concussion, longer exposure to the sport and having the ApoE4 gene.
* Concussion is a clinical diagnosis. Symptom checklists, the Standardized Assessment of Concussion (SAC), neuropsychological testing (paper-and-pencil and computerized) and the Balance Error Scoring System may be helpful tools in diagnosing and managing concussions but should not be used alone for making a diagnosis.
To view the entire AAN concussion report and find more concussion resources, visit www.aan.com/concussion.