Children may experience more concussions than we realize

By Laura Mize • Published: September 15th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Revelations about long-term brain damage suffered by professional football players have heightened awareness about the need to protect student athletes and other children from concussions.

But the risk that a child will suffer a concussion before reaching adulthood could be much greater than current statistics indicate. A recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that concussions among kids are likely much more prevalent than presently recognized.

Multiple factors play into the disparity, but one stands out: Concussion statistics mostly come from hospital emergency rooms, even though many children are diagnosed at doctors’ offices.

Among 8,100 children and teenagers examined for concussions in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, 82 percent were diagnosed at a primary care physicians’ office. Only about 12 percent were diagnosed in an emergency department.

The researchers also noted that about one-third of the concussions occurred in children under age 12, which is below the target age group for most research and public education efforts on concussions. That shows the need for concussion research that is more representative of all affected populations. Also, concussions in younger children may manifest differently than in teenagers, and the researchers noted that this might mean that evaluation and treatment protocols need to be adjusted.

Parents, teachers and coaches also need to know what to look for and how to prevent concussions in young kids. Though they’re not making sports headlines, little noggins need protection just as much or more than the big ones do.