Take good care of your brain while at play

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The number of children visiting the emergency room (ER) with a sports-related concussion has jumped by nearly 60 percent over the last decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Whether this is because kids are getting hurt more often or because parents are have become more vigilant about seeking treatment for their children is not clear, but the report underscores the importance of having a child evaluated following a head injury.

Yet even though the CDC found that the number of these ER visits for kids under 20 increased greatly between 2001 and 2009, they point out that the actual number of concussions (called traumatic brain injury officially, or TBI) children suffer every year is even larger, since many cases go undiagnosed. The CDC report explains that, while not all head injuries need emergency attention, parents should be familiar with the signs of more severe brain injuries or structural injuries such as a skull fracture or blood trapped under the cover of the brain (a subdural hematoma). Such signs include a child who appears dazed or confused, is moving clumsily or is slow to respond, has difficulty with recall of events before or after the injury, as well as any loss of consciousness or behavioral changes. Also of concern are headaches, nausea, vomiting, balance problems, dizziness, double or blurred vision, sensitivity to light or noise, and haziness or grogginess.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross points out that any loss of consciousness, no matter how brief, merits a trip to the ER. Even injuries that appear to be relatively mild can lead to subdural hematoma, which can result in brain damage when left untreated, he says. If that diagnosis is thought of, it s easy to identify and treat. But it can occur hours after the injury itself.