Keep your kids safe from concussion

Learn how to recognize and respond to a concussion and be alert for other serious brain injuries. Get pointers from professional athletes, tips from concussion experts, and stories from real-life teens and their parents.

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  • 1

    What is a
    Concussion

  • 2

    Concussion Signs
    and Symptoms

  • 3

    Responding to
    Concussion

  • 4

    Danger Signs

  • 5

    Severe Brain
    Injury

  • 6

    Recovery
    From Concussion

  • 7

    Returning
    to School

  • 8

    Returning
    to Sports

  • 9

    Brain
    Injury Safety

  • 10

    Get Involved

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What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.

Concussions Are Serious

Medical providers may describe a concussion as a “mild” brain injury because concussions are usually not life-threatening. Even so, the effects of a concussion can be serious.

Concussion Signs and Symptoms

Children and teens who show or report one or more of the signs and symptoms listed below, or simply say they just “don't feel right” after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, may have a concussion or more serious brain injury.

SIGNS OBSERVED BY PARENTS

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can't recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can't recall events after hit or fall

SYMPTOMS REPORTED
BY CHILDREN AND TEENS

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Just not “feeling right” or “feeling down”

See Molly's Story

Signs and symptoms generally show up soon after the injury. But you may not know how serious the injury is at first and some symptoms may not show up for hours or days. For example, in the first few minutes your child or teen might be a little confused or a bit dazed, but an hour later might not be able to remember how he or she got hurt.

You should continue to check for signs of concussion right after and a few days after the injury. If your child or teen’s concussion signs or symptoms get worse, you should take him or her to the emergency department right away.

Responding to Concussion

A child or teen with a concussion needs to be seen by a medical provider. If you think your child or teen has a concussion, contact his or her health care professional.

If the concussion happenes while playing sports, you should also:

  1. Remove the child from play.
  2. Keep the child out of play the day of the injury and until a medical provider, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says he or she is symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.

Children or teens who return to play too soon—while the brain is still healing—risk a greater chance of having a repeat concussion. Repeat or later concussions can be very serious. They can cause permanent brain damage, affecting your child for a lifetime.

Seeking Medical Care

Most kids and teens are treated in the emergency department or in a medical office after a concussion and get to go home. However, when the injury is more serious, your child or teen may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Be sure to tell the medical provider if your child or teen is taking medications—prescription, over-the-counter medicines, or “natural remedies.” Also, when possible, also write down and share the following information:

  • Cause of the injury and strength of the hit or blow to the head or body
  • Any loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out) and if so, for how long
  • Any memory loss immediately after the injury
  • Any seizures (shaking or twitching) immediately after the injury
  • Number of previous concussions (if any)

See Cole's story.

Your child or teen’s medical provider may do a scan of his or her brain (such as a CT scan) to look for signs of a more serious brain injury. Other tests such as “neuropsychological” or “neurocognitive” tests may also be performed. These tests help assess your child or teen’s learning and memory skills, the ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly he or she can think and solve problems. These tests can help the child’s medical provider identify the effects of the concussion.

Danger Signs

In rare cases, a dangerous collection of blood (hematoma) may form on the brain after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that may squeeze the brain against the skull. Right away call 9-1-1 or take your child or teen to the emergency department if after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, he or she has one or more of the following danger signs:

  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Drowsiness or unable to wake up
  • A headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions or seizures (shaking or twitching)
  • Not able to recognize people or places
  • Increasing confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Unusual behavior
  • Loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out). Even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously.
Danger Signs for Toddlers and Infants:
  • Have any of the danger signs listed above.
  • Will not stop crying and cannot be consoled.
  • Will not nurse or eat.

See Tracy's story.

Severe Brain Injury

A person with a severe brain injury will need to be hospitalized and may have long-term problems affecting things such as:

  • Thinking.
  • Memory.
  • Learning.
  • Coordination and balance.
  • Speech, hearing or vision.
  • Emotions.

Read Zack's story.

A severe brain injury can affect all aspects of people’s lives, including relationships with family and friends, as well as their ability to work or be employed, do household chores, drive, and/or do other normal daily activities.

Recovery From Concussion

Rest is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain heal. Your child or teen may need to limit activities while he or she is recovering from a concussion. Physical activities or activities that involve a lot of concentration, such as studying, working on the computer, or playing video games may cause concussion symptoms (such as headache or tiredness) to come back or get worse. After a concussion, physical and cognitive activities—such as concentration and learning—should be carefully watched by a medical provider. As the days go by, your child or teen can expect to slowly feel better.

Recovery Tips

Parents can help their child or teen feel better by being active in their recovery:

  • Rest is Key to Help the Brain Heal:
    • Have your child or teen get plenty of rest. Keep a regular sleep routine, including no late nights and no sleepovers.
    • Make sure your child or teen avoids high-risk/high-speed activities that could result in another bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, such as riding a bicycle, playing sports, climbing playground equipment, and riding roller coasters . Children and teens should not return to these types of activities until their medical provider says they are well enough.
    • Share information about concussion with siblings, teachers, counselors, babysitters, coaches, and others who spend time with your child or teen. This can help them understand what has happened and how to help.
  • Return Slowly to Activities:
    • When your child’s or teen’s medical provider says they are well enough, make sure they return to their normal activities slowly, not all at once.
    • Talk with their medical provider about when your child or teen should return to school and other activities and how you can help him or her deal with any challenges during their recovery. For example, your child may need to spend less time at school, rest often, or be given more time to take tests.
    • Ask your child’s or teen’s medical provider when he or she can safely drive a car or ride a bike.
  • Talk to Their Medical Provider about Concerns:
    • Give your child or teen only medications that are approved by their medical provider.
    • If your child or teen already had a medical condition at the time of their concussion (such as ADHD or chronic headaches), it may take longer for them to recover from a concussion. Anxiety and depression may also make it harder to adjust to the symptoms of a concussion.
    • There are many people who can help you and your family as your child or teen recovers. You do not have to do it alone. Keep talking with your medical provider, family members, and loved ones about how your child or teen is feeling. If you do not think he or she is getting better, tell your medical provider.
Post-Concussive Syndrome
See Molly's Mom's story

While most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully, some will have symptoms that last for days, weeks or even months.

If your child or teen has concussion symptoms that last weeks to months after the injury, their medical provider may talk to you about post-concussive syndrome. While rare after only one concussion, post-concussive syndrome is believed to occur in about 5% to 8% of patients with a history of multiple concussions.

There are many people who can help you and your family as your child or teen recovers. You do not have to do it alone. Keep talking with your medical provider, family members, and loved ones about how your child or teen is feeling. If you do not think he or she is getting better, tell your medical provider.

Returning To School

Most kids and teens will only need help through informal, academic adjustments as they recover from a concussion. However for kids and teens with ongoing symptoms, a variety of formal support services may be available to help them during their recovery. These support services may vary widely among states and school districts. The type of support will differ based on the needs of each student. Some of these support services may include:

  • Response to Intervention Protocol (RTI)
  • 504 Plan
  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Read Sarah's story.

For details on these support services, as well as more information on helping kids and teens return to school after a concussion, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/pdf/TBI_Returning_to_School-a.pdf

Your child or teen may feel frustrated, sad, and even angry because she or he cannot return to school right away, keep up with schoolwork, or hang out as much with their friends. Talk often with your child or teen about this and offer your support and encouragement.

Returning To Sports

An athlete should return to sports practices under the care of an appropriate medical provider. When available, be sure to work closely with the team or school’s certified athletic trainer. Below are five gradual steps that you, your child or teen’s coach, and the medical provider can use to help safely return an athlete to play. Remember, this is a gradual process. These steps should not be done in one day, but instead over several days or even weeks or months. Athletes should only move to the next step once they no longer have symptoms at the current step.

5-Step Return to Play Progression

Baseline: Athlete should not have any concussion symptoms.

  • Step 1: Begin with light aerobic exercise only to increase an athlete’s heart rate. This means about 5 to 10 minutes on an exercise bike, walking, or light jogging. No weight lifting at this point.
  • Step 2: Continue with activities to increase an athlete’s heart rate with body or head movement. This includes moderate jogging, brief running, moderate-intensity stationary biking, and moderate-intensity weightlifting (reduced time and/or reduced weight from your usual routine).
  • Step 3: Add heavy non-contact physical activity, such as sprinting/running, high-intensity stationary biking, weightlifting, or non-contact sport-specific drills (in three planes of movement).
  • Step 4: Athlete may return to practice and full contact (if appropriate for the sport) in controlled practice.
  • Step 5: Athlete may return to competition.

See Gary's Story

As a parent, you should pay careful attention to an athlete’s symptoms, as well as the athlete’s thinking and concentration skills at each step. If an athlete’s symptoms come back or if he or she gets new symptoms, this is a sign that the athlete is pushing too hard. The athlete should stop these activities and the athlete’s medical provider should be contacted. After more rest and no concussion symptoms, the athlete can start at the previous step.

Brain Injury Safety

There are many ways to help reduce the risk of a concussion or other serious brain injury both on and off the sports field, including:

  • Always using age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats that are properly installed.
  • Making sure your child always wears the right helmet for their activity and that it fits correctly.
    • Wearing a helmet is a must to help reduce the risk of a serious brain injury or skull fracture. However, helmets are not designed to prevent concussions. There is no "concussion-proof" helmet.
  • Using gates at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent serious falls in infants and toddlers.
  • Using playgrounds with soft material under them like mulch or sand, not grass or dirt.
  • Encouraging your child or teen to follow sports safety rules and to practice good sportsmanship.

Get Involved

CDC works to get Heads Up concussion materials into the hands of many people, such as parents, health care and school professionals, coaches, and athletes. And now we need your help to reach out to your community. You can make a big difference in educating your community about concussion and keeping kids and teens safe from this injury.

Below are some ideas to get you started, ranging from small activities to larger-scale efforts.

Get Your Community Involved
  • Customize Heads Up resources for your school or league.
  • Show videos and distribute Heads Up concussion materials at your school’s orientation and PTA meetings.
  • Work with schools and leagues to include Heads Up materials in sports registration or back-to-school packets.
  • Post links to CDC’s Heads Up materials and online trainings, as well as other free resources, on your child or teen’s school or leagues website.
  • Like the Heads Up Facebook page and send educational messages on concussion safety though your social media channels, like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Include concussion education messages and links to materials in blogs, newsletters, and publications.
  • Ensure your child or teen’s school or league has a concussion management and return-to-play action plan in place.
Momentum-building Activities
  • Work with CDC to create a Heads Up [state/city] campaign. This can include:
    • Adapting the Heads Up logo for your city and state.
    • Partnering with professional sports teams, schools and colleges, and youth leagues to host educational trainings on concussion for other parents, coaches and athletes. As part of this, you can:
      • Air Heads Up public service announcements (PSAs) at local games/events.
      • Create a Heads Up game night and distribute free concussion resources to attendees.
      • Host a Heads Up logo-design contest or a short video contest to give kids and teens the opportunity to educate other young athletes about this issue.
Media Outreach Activities

Read Shelby's Story

  • Partner with local online, print, radio, and TV journalists and producers to create and air educational PSAs on concussion.
  • Connect with concussion experts in your community and host a live chat through Twitter or Facebook.
  • Educate your media contacts, and work with them to include concussion prevention and safety tips in community media outlets and at media events.