Friday, June 20, 2014

Kids and Concussions

As long as there are kids and sports in this world, there will always be bumps, bruises and worried parents with frayed nerves. Fortunately, there will also be physicians like Tommasina Papa-Rugino, M.D., who specializes in neurology and concussion management at Southern Ocean Medical Center. 

Dr. Papa-Rugino recently took time out of her hectic schedule to pass along a few tips on kids, concussions and how to manage both as calmly and safely as possible. 

Know When to Call it a Game

“Trying to keep your child free of injuries is almost impossible, regardless of the sport. No matter how careful you are, kids are going to get concussions,” Papa-Rugino says. “The problem is, when many kids bang their heads in sports, a lot of them just get right back in the game and immediately start playing again.”

It’s normal for the child to want to return back into action. Maybe it’s the biggest game of the season, maybe the child is on a hot streak. However, patients need to be cautious, Papa-Rugino says. Putting off evaluating a potential concussion even just until the game is over is a bad decision an athlete or parent can make. 

“This is so important because you don’t want them to sustain a second head injury before the first one is healed; sequential injuries can have additive symptoms and recovery may be delayed,” she adds. 

Know What You’re Dealing With

“When a concussion occurs, what happens is the brain shakes/rotates inside the skull, disrupting brain function. This doesn’t have to be from a blow to the head, it could also be from a fast motion to the head, like whiplash.”

Papa-Rugino says it’s important not to panic, but keep a close eye on your child for any potential symptoms or unusual behavior.

"Watch for things like headaches, sensitivity to light, balance issues, fatigue, fogginess, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruptions, upset stomach…,” she says. “But remember, these aren’t reasons to panic.If your child wants to sleep, let them sleep. Keep an eye on them, but there’s no need to wake them every hour on the hour.”

“Although concussions are usually benign, symptoms can vary from child to child. If there’s any vomiting, fainting, confusion, bad headaches, talk to a doctor right away.”

ImPACT Testing

Papa-Rugino emphasizes the importance of ImPACT testing, which can help determine if a young athlete is able to safely return to play after being diagnosed with a concussion during the season.

ImPACT testing is a cognitive evaluation taken at the beginning of the school year/sports season. If an injury occurs, the test is retaken and those results are evaluated alongside the baseline results. This serves as an evaluation of the post-injury condition and tracks recovery for safe return to play, preventing the cumulative effects of concussion.

IMPACT testing is offered by many schools and hospitals, including Southern Ocean Medical Center. Papa-Rugino recommends all students, particularly those participating in school sports, have ImPACT testing done at the beginning of the year to achieve an accurate baseline reading.

The Best Defense

  “The most important thing parents can do is to be vigilant. Don’t let your child go right back into any strenuous activity -- sports, heavy lifting -- until they’re absolutely symptom free. Any exertion could make the symptoms worse. And they should not return to their sport unless they’re cleared by their physician or neurologist.”

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