Head in the Game Article
We often allow our teens to play various sports to help them learn the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship and an active, healthy lifestyle. However, most sports carry relevant concussion risks. In fact, recent studies have shown that sports concussions have nearly doubled over the past decade. Classified as an injury to the brain caused by a heavy jolt or blow to the head, concussions used to be considered relatively mild injuries, but doctors now know about potential long-term effects that concussions can cause, and that knowledge has spurred the sports world to help athletes understand the risks of concussions.
We all need to know how to identify obvious concussion signs on our children. Common physical symptoms of concussions include headaches, blurry vision, dizziness and loss of balance. Additionally, there are some mental symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating and sluggishness that are associated with concussions.
Dr. Larry Epperson, board certified neurologist, works with most area high school and college athletes who have received a concussion or head injury. In his field for 23 years, he has a personal interest in concussions since his son is a football player at Samford University and was an all-state middle linebacker in high school.
Today, our doctors are equipped with terrific tools such as the MRI and CAT scan that can reveal hematomas and other issues with the brain, and our expanded medical knowledge of concussions has caused the National High School Athletic Association to create and enforce strict injury rules. Generally, any player who exhibits signs of a concussion after a blow to the head during a game must be removed from athletic play immediately.
Epperson uses the American Academy of Neurology guidelines when determining the severity of concussions and a protocol for clearing athletes for play. There are basically three grades of concussions: grade 1, which includes lightheadedness, dizziness and pain for less than 15 minutes; grade 2, which includes lightheadedness, dizziness and pain for more than 15 minutes; and grade 3, which includes any loss of consciousness.
For the first two grades, the injured athlete is pulled from play and must be medically cleared to play within one week. For grade 3, the athlete must be symptom free for two weeks before it is safe for renewed sports participation. The AHSAA requires that the student athlete have a written clearance from a doctor to be able to play sports after any concussion.
Epperson cautions that parents need to be sure that their children are symptom-free for a week before resuming play. Continued headaches and other symptoms indicate that the brain has not fully healed. Research has shown that if the student athlete engages in contact sports too soon after a concussion, they can develop Second Impact Syndrome. This can lead to a wide range of long-term effects, such as early onset dementia that can strike college and professional athletes as early as their 30s and 40s. There is also a possibility of developing Post Concussion Syndrome, which is indicated by symptoms such as trouble focusing, moodiness, sleep and appetite changes. This can lead to seizures and even death if the brain continues to swell.
Additionally, athletes who suffer from PCS can completely lose their ability to play their sport. An example is former NFL player Ted Johnson who retired at the age of just 32 because he could no longer play the game. The former New England Patriots linebacker admitted that he suffered from severe depression, dizziness and excessive drowsiness due to PCS.
Concussions in relation to sports are still being studied. Doctors are continuing to gain perspective into how concussions affect each individual differently. Meanwhile, sports associations are trying their best to reduce concussion rates and keep players as healthy as possible. However, if a student athlete has two concussions in the same sport during that athletic year, they should sit out the rest of the season, according to Epperson. He often tells athletes, “God gave you one brain, so you have to take care of it!”