How to Tell if Your Child Has a Concussion

When a Bump on the Head Is Something More

You can kiss away a boo-boo on your little one's knee easily, but her head is a whole different subject. Whether it's a baby rolling off the bed or a school-age child taking a hard hit in a contact sport, head injuries are scary for parents. Knowing the signs of a concussion can make you feel a little better and help you decide when a bump to the head needs medical attention.

What Is a Concussion?

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A concussion is a head injury that affects the brain when your child takes a blow or bump to the head. That jolt jars the brain enough to temporarily change how the brain functions, whether or not your child loses consciousness. The brain can safely move around inside the skull to some degree, but sometimes, a hard impact can cause tearing of blood vessels and nerves, which can result in a concussion.

A concussion can interrupt how the brain works for a short period after the injury. It can affect balance, coordination, memory and concentration. Your child's brain might need to work a little harder or take a little longer to do normal activities for a period of time after the concussion.

How Do You Know if Your Child Has a Concussion?

Any time your child hits her head or takes a blow to the head, it's a good idea to check for a concussion. You usually think of major blows to the head as a cause of a concussion, but even a minor head injury can result in one. Your child may or may not lose consciousness, so don't use that to decide if she has a concussion. Some kids feel okay after the initial injury even with a concussion.

Look for these potential signs of a concussion after a head injury:

  • A severe headache or a headache that gets worse over time
  • Blurry vision
  • Any change in her mental state
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty balancing or falling over while walking
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty with memory, focusing or concentrating
  • A feeling of fogginess or slowing down mentally
  • Confusion
  • Slurring speech or saying things that don't make sense
  • Mood changes, including irritability, sadness or feeling more emotional than normal

Keep in mind that the symptoms don't always start right away. Sometimes, the symptoms can start as long as 48 hours after the injury, so keep an eye on your child for a few days after a head injury.

Who Can Get a Concussion?

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Anyone can get a concussion. Even a baby can have a concussion if he experiences a head injury. People often think of contact sports or rough play at the park as the cause of a concussion, but there are many ways that kids end up with concussions. Falling is one possible cause that can happen at any age. Your baby or toddler could roll off a bed or changing table, for example.

It's more challenging to spot a concussion in a baby or toddler than it is in an older child since your little one can't tell you how he feels. Instead, rely on your observations, and take your little one to the doctor if you have any concerns or notice any changes after the injury.

How to Treat a Head Injury

One of the most important parts of treating a head injury is staying calm yourself. You need your child to stay calm, and she can't do that if you're panicking.

Start by treating the injury itself. Ice can help the bump feel better, and it reduces swelling. If the blow to the head breaks the skin, use a clean cloth to apply pressure until the bleeding stops. The head has lots of blood vessels in the skin, so even minor injuries can bleed for some time.

Watch your child's behaviors. Look for anything that seems unusual for your child. Check specifically for the listed concussion symptoms to determine if the behaviors she's showing fit those symptoms.

If your child seems OK, encourage her to rest and avoid anything too strenuous for a day or two. Keep watching for any new symptoms that might pop up over the next day or two.

When to See a Doctor

If your child shows any signs of a concussion, seek medical attention right away. If the symptoms seem mild or you're not sure if it's a concussion, call your doctor to find out if she needs to see your child. It's always better to err on the side of caution and find out your child is OK than to wait to see if a problem develops. Follow your instincts. If you think something's not quite right, have your child evaluated.

Doctors use several different evaluation methods to diagnose a concussion. Most exams start with questions about the injury. The doctor might ask your child basic questions to check for issues with memory and concentration. Physical exams focus on checking for bodily functions such as reflexes, balance and coordination. In some cases, the doctor does a CT scan or MRI to check for damage.