The start of the school year brings a return to sports for many students. This can also mean the return of concussion risk in nearly all sports, not just those considered high contact, like football. Aaron Karlin, MD, pediatric sports medicine specialist and Director of the Concussion Management Program at Ochsner Health System recommends appropriate protective gear for each sport; baseline testing for all student-athletes; prompt, proper treatment for any student who shows signs of a possible concussion; and allowing enough time to let the brain heal.

"Concussions are much more serious than just 'getting your bell rung' or 'seeing stars',” says Dr. Karlin. "Medically, we consider them a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain bumps against the skull because of a blow, bump or jolt to the head. The force of the impact can disrupt the wiring in the brain, causing a breakdown in the normal flow of messages."

Know Your Normal

For student-athletes, baseline testing – regardless of the sport – gives physicians, coaches and trainers a head start when a concussion occurs.

"Before the season begins, we look at a student's memory skills, concentration, reaction time, thinking speed, and balance, among other things, to understand where a student is," explains Dr. Karlin. "That way we know what is normal for each student-athlete. If a concussion happens, the baseline test results help us gauge the student's recovery. The goal is to have a student return to academics and sports only when it's safe to do so."

Karlin and his Ochsner colleagues recommend new baseline tests every two years. In many cases, they can be done through the school, or through a physician with concussion expertise.

Spotting the Signs

Parents should seek medical attention if an injured student-athlete experiences any of these symptoms following a bump, blow or jolt to the head (or any whole-body impact hard enough to shake the brain):

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Mood changes, such as excessive irritability, or, lack of normal emotional responses
  • Sensitivity to light and/oor noise
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Disrupted memory, attention or concentration
  • Difficulty solving problems or slowed thought process
  • A student doesn't have to be knocked out or black out to have a concussion!

If a child or teen with a concussion experiences seizures, repeated vomiting, slurred speech or declining mental status, such as difficulty in being awakened, parents should seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

Take Time to Recover

"When you strain a muscle, you rest to give it time to heal. The same is true for the brain," says Dr. Karlin.

  • Reduce activities that stimulate or stress the brain, such as watching TV, texting, using a computer, reading, studying or playing video games.
  • Take the full recommended recovery time. When in doubt, sit out.
  • Follow graduated return-to-play protocols recommended by coach, trainer or medical provider.
  • Watch for repeated head injuries. Returning to sports too early (before adequate healing has occurred) increases the risk for repeat concussions. It can also worsen or exacerbate symptoms, prolonging recovery, or, even run the risk of more serious brain injury or death.

Ochsner’s Concussion Management Program is the first and largest of its kind in the Gulf South, using a multi-disciplinary approach to detect and treat concussions. For more information on Ochsner’s Concussion Management Program, or to schedule an appointment, visit https://www.ochsner.org/services/concussion-management-program/ or call 866-624-7637. Or check out Ochsner's A Parent's Guide to Concussions online.

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