By Kylie Blanchard
With summer in full swing, children’s activity levels increase and, along with this, so do their chances for injuries. While bumps and bruises remain commonplace, there is also an uptick in head injuries and concussions during this time of the year.
“We see the same injuries we see with sports-related concussions, but we also see more injuries from falling off
bikes, skateboards and playground equipment as well as slipping at pools,” says Dr. Vanessa Nelson, pediatrician at Sanford Health.
“Kids are also more likely to engage in more high-risk behavior that leads to concussions, says Nelson. “Their frontal lobes aren’t fully formed so they are more likely to try things without thinking about the consequences leading to injuries and falls.”
Nelson says prevention is the key to reducing the chances of head injuries this time of year.
“Bike helmets are really important and underused,” she notes. “It is important to be wearing them all the time when using a bike, skateboard or scooter, and that they are fitting correctly.”
It is also key to not push kids off of training wheels, she says, and to instruct kids on bike safety. Replacing a bike helmet after it is in an accident is also imperative, she adds.
“Car accidents are another big cause of concussion in all age groups,” says Nelson, noting it is critical to make sure children are in the correct car seat and backwards facing to the appropriate size and age.
In addition, proper ground coverage under playsets can also help to prevent injuries during falls, along with using gates on outdoor stairs and decks as a means of fall prevention.
“Also supervise as much as possible to prevent the risky behaviors that are more common in kids,” Nelson says.
Signs and Symptoms
Data indicates children have significantly more head injuries than adults, says Nelson.
“Some of the data may be a little false because parents seek medical attention more often if their child is injured than if they are injured, especially in children under four, however children do have more concussions than adults.
Signs to look for in children with possible head injury include a loss of consciousness or getting knocked out, she notes. “If a child doesn’t really remember what happened, that is an indication they did lose consciousness. They may have a bad headache or one that gets worse over time, which may also be accompanied by vomiting.”
“The head is also a pretty vascular region,” she continues. “If there is bleeding and you can’t stop it or if there is a big bump or bruise, definitely bring them in.”
Other signs of a head injury may include weakness or abnormal neurological symptoms, changes in personality, numbness, or loss of feeling. “If a child is less than two years of age, anything out of the ordinary needs medical attention if you suspect a head injury,” says Nelson.
A recent study published at the end of the May in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) also points to concussion rates among children possibly being much higher than reported.
“This is really topical in medicine right now,” says Nelson. “A quarter million to half-million kids get concussions every year and that is just according to emergency room visit numbers.”
The study, conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at four years of data on more than 8,000 children diagnosed with a concussion at health centers in the Philadelphia Pediatric Hospital network.
In looking at the data, it was found 82 percent of patients went to their primary care doctors after being injured, instead of to the emergency room. “This indicates there is a much higher number of concussions among children than what is recorded in the emergency room,” notes Nelson.
One-third of these patients were also under age 12, which according to the published study, is an age group often missed in recording concussion data because of the focus on monitoring concussions among high school and college athletes.
“If kids get one concussion you need to take precautions to prevent additional concussions in the future,” says Nelson. “Their brains are more affected by the trauma as well and recurrent concussions in children are much more harmful on a growing, developing brain than it is on an adult.”
Kylie Blanchard is a local writer and a busy mom and wife who loves being active. And with a concussion under her belt from her teenage years, she is also a big proponent of everyone wearing helmets when biking, skateboarding, skiing and snowboarding, etc. – just ask her family.