Child Head Injury Checklist: These Are the Signs of a Concussion
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  • Head injuries in children should not be so easily dismissed — even seemingly minor ones. It's a message the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. is taking seriously. It has released guidelines that specifically focuses on diagnosing and treating mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), commonly known as concussions, in children ages 18 and below. These often a occur after the head is bumped, hit, or jolted.

    The release of the clinical recommendations last September 2018, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, came just before the shocking death of an 11-year-old boy after he fell from his bunk bed (read more about it here.)

    “More than 800,000 children seek care for TBI in U.S. emergency departments each year,” says Dr. Deb Houry, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in a press release. “And until today, there was no evidence-based guideline in the United States on pediatric mTBI — inclusive of all causes.”

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    Signs of a concussion

    The CDC mTBI guidelines are aimed towards healthcare providers, but also include symptoms of a concussion that parents should watch out for. These signs can be observed right after the accident, but some symptoms may only show hours or even days after, says the CDC.

    “For example, in the first few minutes your child or teen might be a little confused or a bit dazed, but an hour later your child might not be able to remember how he or she got hurt.” Adds the CDC, “You should continue to check for signs of a concussion right after the injury and a few days after the injury. If your child or teen’s concussion signs or symptoms get worse, you should take him or her to the emergency department right away.”

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    What to watch out for

    • A headache that gets worse and does not go away
    • Significant nausea
    • Repeated vomiting
    • Increased confusion
    • Slurred speech
    • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
    • Weakness or numbness
    • Decreased coordination
    • Loss of consciousness (even briefly)
    • Convulsions or seizures
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    Children and concussions

    Contrary to their name, minor traumatic brain injury (or concussions) should not be taken lightly. “Even what seems to be a mild bump to the head can be serious,” says the CDC. Remember, children's developing brains are more vulnerable to mild traumatic brain injury. Concussions, especially in children, are an emergency situation and need immediate medical attention. 

    Young children, with their boundless energy and curiosity, are prone to falls and bumps. Injury from bumping into stationary objects (such as when a toddler runs into a door frame) and falling from a sitting or standing height are not often related to serious injury, says a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). However, the potential for serious injury should always be considered, adds the AAP.

    The presence of any symptoms of head trauma (listed above) should already be a red flag. If this is the case, seek medical attention for your child immediately. “Trauma is the leading cause of death in children older than 1 year, and among trauma patients, head injury is the leading cause of death and disability,” says the AAP.

    On a last note, parents need to teach their kids never to dismiss or ignore fall-related injuries, especially if they hit their head, when they are on their own. If they fall and hit their head, they should be taught to immediately tell a grown-up. Older kids can be told of the symptoms to watch out for and the steps to take.

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