The Signs of Concussion - and When You Should Worry

As any parent knows, from the moment they can walk children are bumping into things and getting knocks and scrapes.  We bite back the eternal phrase "Be careful!" as they take their first forays out into the world, climbing and jumping and running.  Falls are almost inevitable, but to develop properly and become resilient children need to test their bodies and to take risks, however hard it is for us to watch.  But what should you do if a fall or sports collision involves a bump on the head?

A fall that involves a bump on the head is scary for any parent, but usually there is nothing to worry about.  The word concussion sounds horribly scary, but usually it is nothing to worry about.  Concussion is a minor trauma to the brain caused by a sudden impact or change in direction.  This movement causes the brain to move within the skull, changing position momentarily.

This movement disrupts the part of the brain known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS).  The RAS is an important part of the brain that helps to regulate our consciousness and acts as a filter to help us ignore irrelevant stimuli.  This is why a bump to the head makes you feel dizzy.

The majority of head bumps will not require medical attention, just a hug and a kiss from mummy to make it better.  But occasionally a bump on the head might cause a concussion so it is important to know what to look out for and know when emergency medical attention is required.

For immediate treatment:

  • Apply ice to the bump to relieve some pain
  • Offer Paracetamol to treat the pain, if required
  • Encourage your child to rest
  • Avoid physical activity
  • Allow your child to sleep is they want to

Every child is different so they will display a different combination of symptoms.  It is important to remember that the symptoms of concussion may not develop for a number of days, so it is important to keep an eye on your child for a few days.

Here's what to look for:

  • They lose consciousness, even if only briefly
  • They appear dazed or stunned
  • They answer questions really slowly
  • They repeat things
  • They cannot recall events immediately prior to or after the bump
  • Their mood becomes very low or hyper
  • They forget planned activities
Of course, many of these are attributable to any normal child, what you are looking for is any change in their usual behaviour.  But if any of the symptoms concern you or seem out of character for your child, seek medical advice.

In addition, ask your child if he/she is experiencing any of these:

  • Headache
  • Feeling of pressure in the head
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Struggling to balance
  • Feeling overly tired or lethargic
  • Has blurry or double vision
  • Feels more sensitive to bright lights or loud noises
  • Any numbness or tingling
  • Feeling like everything is hazy or moving slowly
If any of these apply, seek medical attention.

The vast majority of concussions do not require emergency medical attention.  But if you spot any of the following symptoms contact emergency services immediately:

  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Severe drowsiness or cannot be woken
  • A severe headache
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Problems with co-ordination
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Difficulty recognising familiar people or things
  • Confusion, restlessness or agitation
  • Unusual behaviour
  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fluids coming from the ears or nose
  • Deafness in one or both ears
  • Any changes in sleep pattern: difficulty getting to sleep, sleeping more than usual, difficulty waking up
Concussion can be scary, but for a mild concussion simply follow the basic self-treatment techniques listed above.  If you are overly concerned or spot any of the more severe symptoms mentioned above, seek medical advice.

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