Paul Dabrowski, MD, is the Trauma Program medical director at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix in Arizona.
Question: My son is a freshman in high school and going out for the football team where he will play with much bigger, older players.How can my son prevent injury, and what are the signs of a serious concussion?
Answer: Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury, caused by a blow to the head. Boys and girls, young and old, and participants of any sport can suffer a concussion. Concussions range from mild to severe, and can disrupt the way the brain normally works. Yes, they can even occur while wearing a protective helmet. As a matter of fact, my son suffered one last year in a Pop Warner football game.
You don’t have to be “knocked out” to have a concussion. Some of the typical signs of a concussion include: headache, memory loss, dizziness, loss of consciousness, walking problems, unusual eye movements, repeated vomiting, confusion, and seizure-like activity. If a player has unequal pupils or is unconscious for more than just a few seconds to minutes, he or she may have suffered a more severe type of brain injury.
Once a player has had a concussion it is recommended that they do not re-enter that game. They should receive an immediate evaluation by a health care professional. Even after the player has received medical attention, it is important that they do not return to practice or games until released by a doctor.
Long-term effects increase if an athlete has suffered multiple concussions. An increased rate of brain injury and occasionally death occurs when people have had previous concussions with unconsciousness. Up to one year later a person may still notice symptoms such as memory and concentration problems, mood swings, personality changes, headaches, fatigue or excessive drowsiness, dizziness, insomnia and noise and light sensitivity.
Athletes involved in contact sports are at risk to experience a concussion even if they pay attention to safety and use the proper preventative gear, so your concern for your son is warranted. As with all injuries, prevention is key. It is important to make sure that all athletic gear is properly tested and fits appropriately. Coaches and players should be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions and always react with the best interest of the player in mind.