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Summer Fun And Head Injuries

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

There’s quite a bit in the news lately about football head injuries and the long term damage professional players have sustained. Recently some pros have even said publicly that they don’t want their sons to play the game.

So if your boy plays football, you’re probably aware of the danger of head injury. But what you might not know, especially if your child doesn’t play contact sports, is that a kid doesn’t have to play football for head injury to be a problem. Parents of children of all ages and both sexes should be aware of the warning signs of concussion and take head injury seriously.

Many head injuries, in fact, happen in ordinary play. My older son knocked his noggin in high school gym class when he roller-bladed out the field house door and down a set of concrete steps. Luckily he got by without lasting difficulty but he also got quick emergency room care. He has also continued to be lucky in avoiding another head injury despite a long athletic career. My son’s game is not a contact sport but even so one of his teammates was forced to retire because numerous on-field concussions were starting to add up.

My son’s experiences point out the two keys of head injury: quick response counts and the effects of head injury are cumulative.

If your child hits her head hard and loses consciousness, even briefly, get her checked. If she seems disoriented or unable to remember what just happened a minute ago (if she keeps asking the same questions over and over, for instance), get her checked. If she experiences headaches, vomiting, dizziness, or sudden sleepiness, get her checked out. Stop what you’re doing and get immediate medical care. Head injury should send you and your child to the ER.

A minor concussion may have no lasting effects. But a more serious concussion can cause bleeding and swelling in the brain. Because the brain is confined inside the inflexible skull, bleeding and swelling cause more problems in the head than bleeding and swelling in any ankle or any other part of the body. Permanent brain injury and death are possible outcomes of a serious concussion. And even a minor concussion calls for resting the brain for several days, even weeks, after. This means no school and no reading, and as little thinking as possible.

In addition, keep track of the number of hits your child’s head takes. That fall from a window at age two, that car accident at age six, that tumble off a bike at age 10… these all add up. What we’ve learned from professional football is that a series of minor concussions can accrue so events that by themselves were not serious add up over time to critical impairments.

Finally, notice that a kid doesn’t need to ride motocross or skate freestyle to crack his skull. In fact, in these sports, helmets are part of the equipment and while no helmet can protect against concussion completely they certainly can help. Just keep in mind that any fall, especially a fall onto a hard surface, by a child at any age can cause problems.

You can’t protect your child from every danger and you certainly don’t want to lock your child in a closet all summer. But be aware. Don’t downplay a head injury but get it checked out.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.