Children's Hospital Colorado

Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a mild injury to the brain that disrupts how the brain normally works. It’s usually caused by a sudden blow or jolt to the head, although children often bump or hit their heads without getting a concussion. One does not need to be knocked out or lose consciousness to have experienced a concussion. Another term for concussion is mild traumatic brain injury (mild TBI). Even though a concussion might be called a “mild” injury, it still must be taken seriously because it is an injury to the brain.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion can include headache, dizziness, vomiting, confusion, acting dazed, forgetting what happened before or after the injury and being “knocked out."

What should I do if I suspect my child has a concussion?

  1. Take your child aside and assess the situation. If your child is an athlete, take him or her out of the game or practice. Athletes should not return to play the same day if a concussion is suspected.
  2. Ensure your child is evaluated by an appropriate healthcare professional. Do not try to judge the seriousness of the injury yourself.
  3. If you witness a head injury to another child (not your own), tell his/her parents or guardians about the possible concussion.
  4. Allow children and athletes to return to play only with permission from an appropriate healthcare professional, such as their primary care provider or a concussion specialist.

 
For immediate medical attention, CALL 911.

What should parents do in the first days after a concussion?

Serious medical problems after a concussion are rare but can occur. For this reason, a healthcare provider should always be involved in a young person’s care after a concussion.

In the first one to two days after the injury, you should watch your child very carefully. You can give acetaminophen (Tylenol) for headaches, but no other medications should be given during this time without healthcare provider’s approval. You should get IMMEDIATE medical help if your child displays:

  • A headache that gets worse, lasts for a long time or is severe
  • Confusion, extreme sleepiness or trouble waking up
  • Vomiting multiple times
  • Trouble walking or talking
  • Any numbness, weakness or tingling in arms or legs
  • A seizure or convulsion (arms or legs stiffen or shake uncontrollably)
  • Any sudden change in thinking or behavior

Concussions and helmet safety:

  • Bicycle helmets involved in a crash should be replaced. Even if there is no visible damage, the helmet may not protect your child as well in the next crash.
  • Helmets used for contact sports (e.g., football, hockey, lacrosse) should have a National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) stamp of approval on them. The stamp is usually found on the back or side of the helmet.
  • Helmets should not be purchased “used” because the history and care of the helmet are unknown.
  • Helmets should only be used for the sport for which they are designed. For example, a ski helmet should only be used for skiing/snowboarding not for other activities.
  • Children are much more likely to wear helmets if their parents/guardians wear helmets.

Concussion resources for coaches and parents:

Concussion Comeback guide for teachers and parents: 

Recognizing the unique challenges faced by students recovering from a concussion, Children’s Colorado Concussion Comeback program was developed as a comprehensive resource to help parents and teachers guide students back into the school environment.

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Why Choose Children’s Hospital Colorado Concussion Program?

At Children’s Colorado, we see thousands of youth each year who have suffered a concussion.  Our Concussion Program services comprehensive range of services from medical consultation and appointments for concussions, to helping students return to school and academics, to helping decide when athletes can return to playing sports. 

 

 

What are signs and symptoms of a concussion?

Most young people will recover completely from a concussion within one to two weeks. But, some youth can take longer to recover than others.

Common symptoms seen after a concussion are listed below. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about any changes that you see in the following areas:

Physical

  • Headaches
  • Sick to stomach or vomiting
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Low energy or being run down
  • Trouble with vision/seeing
  • Bothered by light or noise
  • Sleeping problems

Thinking (cognitive)

  • Slowed thinking
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Acting like "in a fog"
  • Easily confused
  • Poorer school performance

Behavioral or emotional

  • Irritability or grouchiness
  • Easily upset or frustrated
  • Nervousness
  • Sadness
  • Acting without thinking
  • Any other personality change

Reasons to consider seeing a concussion specialist include:

  • Any of the above problems last more than two weeks
  • Any problem seems especially severe
  • Your child has had more than one concussion
  • Your child has been diagnosed with a more serious brain injury (e.g., an injury with bleeding or bruising found on a CT or MRI scan of the brain)
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How do the experts at Children's Hospital Colorado diagnose a concussion?

As part of the Concussion Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, evaluation of a child with a suspected concussion may include:

  • Medical and neurological examinations
  • Consultations to help with decisions about when an athlete should return to play sports
  • Neuropsychological evaluations to assess thinking areas potentially affected by concussion (e.g. attention and memory)

If your child is diagnosed with a concussion, we’ll help develop a treatment plan to address school issues, support recovery and manage changes in behavior or adjustment. Experts from our Concussion Program will also provide referrals to specialists in education, physical therapy, behavioral health, neurology, neurosurgery and other medical areas when needed.

Learn more about the neuropsychological assessment used to test for concussion.

How is a concussion treated?

The Concussion Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado evaluates and treats children and teenagers who have sustained concussions and other types of mild traumatic brain injuries. Learn more about our Concussion Program.

What can parents do to help treat a concussion?

A concussion can be scary and stressful for both you and your child. It’s important to remember that most symptoms will last for only a short time. The following suggestions should be helpful as your child is healing from the concussion:

  • Keep your child safe. It is important your child does not hit his or her head again while healing. Your child will need to take a break from sports and other activities that might cause another head injury. A healthcare provider should help make the decision about when it is safe for your child to return to sports. When the healthcare provider says it is safe again, he or she should develop a specific plan to return your child to sports in a step-by-step, gradual fashion.  
  • Have your child rest. Doing too much too soon after a concussion can worsen symptoms. In the first few days after injury, he or shill will probably need more “down time” than usual to rest and relax.
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep and eats properly. Allow short daytime naps and make sure your child gets plenty of sleep at night. Also, make sure he or she eats healthy foods and drinks plenty of water.
  • Allow extra time to finish things. Some children may be a littler slower in how they do things after a concussion. Allow more time than usual to finish tasks. 
  • Give more chances to learn. Remember that things might be harder for a while. When learning, first make sure your child is paying attention. He or she might also need to hear or see information more times than usual. Make sure you tell school staff about the injury so they can watch for problems and provide extra help if needed.
  • Allow more breaks. Paying attention during hard or boring tasks might be more difficult. Have your child take breaks when doing homework and other similar tasks.
  • Be patient. Your child might seem cranky, more easily upset, or more tired and forgetful. Be patient and understanding when this happens. If the behavior continues, talk with a healthcare provider.  
  • Partner with a professional. Healthcare professionals should always be involved in a young person’s care soon after a concussion. You should also follow up with your primary care provider or a concussion specialist if your child’s symptoms last for more than two weeks. 

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