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Rate of Concussions in Kids Increasing, Symptoms Not Immediately Apparent

7-31-12

Concussions are serious injuries that have been discussed more in depth recently as doctors have learned more about the head injuries. Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey Director Rosemarie Moser told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that rest is important in the recovery process. She also said parents need to be vigilant to protect their children from recurring sports injuries.

Moser said the rate of concussion is likely increasing in kids because more and more are playing sports year round and participating in multiple sports. “We get more media exposure and we know more about it because the research of the brain has really doubled and increased more than ever,” she said. “The brain is a difficult organ to study.”

The symptoms of concussion can be difficult to discern, according to Moser. “That’s why we say, ‘when in doubt, sit them out,’” she said, adding that a concussion doesn’t have to be caused by a hit.

“A concussion is any significant shaking of the brain,” Moser said. “It can be a hit to the head or it doesn’t have to be a hit. It can be a whiplash where the brain kind of jostles around inside and then the delicate neural network gets disturbed.”

Symptoms from a concussion may include a dazed look, dizziness, confusion and a headache, but Moser pointed out that victims don’t have to have all the symptoms or even show signs of them right away. “Very often the signs or symptoms may not even show for 24 hours or even later,” she said. “So if a kid looks fine or even an athlete, a young college athlete, looks fine initially, if you suspected that it happened, don’t put them back in because symptoms may not show until later and we don’t want them to get hit again while they’re still vulnerable.”

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Coaches are becoming more aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions, Moser said, partly because of legislation being passed in numerous states — including New Jersey — that mandates adults involved in athletic programs in public and non-public schools familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms and pull young athletes off the field if they exhibit signs.

It’s difficult to determine the severity of a concussion, Moser said. In years past, doctors would grade concussions using a number scale and believed a grade three concussion with loss of consciousness was the most severe.

“What we’re finding now is some individuals who have loss of consciousness may actually recover faster than those who don’t,” Moser explained. “Everyone is really unique so there’s no cookie cutter answer as to the severity of it until the person’s recovered and you know how long it’s taken and you know what the symptoms have been.”

While Moser said most people fully recover from concussions, if they aren’t treated properly, there can be lasting effects. “If you don’t deal with it correctly, if you get hit again and continue playing, if you have multiple concussions without really getting over it; if that happens, then yes, the symptoms can last for years or even more permanently,” she said.

Moser said parents need to be the best advocates for their children who are playing sports. She said they should find out if their children are using the most up to date equipment and if they are being taught how to properly tackle or check in hockey.

“No helmet can prevent concussion, but it can prevent more serious consequences — brain bleeds or skull fractures, etc.,” Moser said.

Moser said many are working on legislation on concussions for the nation. A national bill cosponsored by Congressman Bill Pascrell and Sen. Robert Menendez passed the House but not the Senate. Although the legislation failed, she said some progress was made.

“But as a result of that, the CDC — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have been mandated to create a committee, an expert panel on which I actually serve to develop federal guidelines for pediatric concussion and mild traumatic brain injury in the United States that will then be uniform guidelines by hopefully 2014,” Moser said.