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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : vitality August 01, 2014

5/19/2012 9:58:00 PM
Concussions: How to detect and prevent them at all ages
Yavapai Regional Medical Center

Sports-related head injuries - particularly concussions in young athletes - have made headlines recently.

Preventing head injuries in children is critical. However, it's also important to keep in mind that concussions can occur at any age and in a variety of ways including car crashes, bicycle accidents and even a seemingly minor fall.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. It's caused by a blow to the head or an injury during which the head is violently shaken. While a concussion may cause some people to lose consciousness, most do not. In fact, it's not uncommon for a person to develop a concussion without even knowing it.

What are the symptoms of a concussion? They can be subtle. Common symptoms include headaches, an inability to concentrate, difficulty balancing, sensitivity to light or noise, dizziness, and changes in sleep patterns. A young child with a concussion may have similar symptoms, but they may be more difficult to detect. Signs to watch for in young children include irritability, more crying than usual and changes in normal behavior patterns. For all ages, the symptoms of a concussion can last for days, weeks or longer.

Other concussion symptoms that indicate immediate medical attention is needed include:

• Vomiting

• Seizures

• A worsening headache

• Pupils unequal in size

• Changes in physical coordination

• Confusion

• Slurred speech

• Large bumps on the head (particularly in infants under a year)

• Blood or other fluid from the nose or ears.

To diagnose a concussion, a healthcare provider evaluates the individual's ability to process information as well as his or her coordination and reflexes. A physician may also order an EEG (brain wave test) or a CT scan or MRI (multi-dimensional X-rays) of the head. In some cases, a patient may need to be hospitalized overnight for observation.

It takes time and rest to recover from a concussion, but most people do fully recover. If a concussion occurred during a sports activity, it's important not to participate again until your doctor says it's safe to do so.

When a second concussion occurs before the first one heals, it's called "second impact syndrome" (SIS) and can lead to life-threatening swelling of the brain.

Of course, the best strategy is to reduce the risk of concussion by, for example:

• Wearing helmets and other protective gear when playing sports and recreational activities;

• Buckling your seatbelt in the car; and

• Monitoring your home for hazards that may cause someone - particularly a child or elderly person - to fall.

Remember, when it comes to concussions, it's always better to be safe than sorry. If you're concerned about any unusual symptoms that someone is experiencing after a head injury, be sure to seek immediate medical attention.

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