Brain injury specialist and National Institutes of Health-funded researcher Christina Master, M.D., says new research is changing what we know about caring for children and teens with concussions, as well as how long recovery can take.
Here's what parents need to know:
Don't delay getting care. It's important that a child get medical care as soon as possible after a concussion. That includes follow-up monitoring to make sure recovery is continuing. Studies show that seeking treatment within the first seven days "makes a big difference in recovery," says Dr. Master.
Don't rush recovery. "Previously, we thought a concussion healed in a few days or a week or two, but it turns out a month is typical," Dr. Master says. She tells parents and kids that it may take longer than they expect for their brain to recover and for them to fully return to normal activities and school.
Realize that concussion in females may be different from concussion in males. Research shows that girls between the ages of 7 and 18 will take longer to recover from a concussion than boys. They also can suffer longer from vision and balance problems. This may be because girls do not seek specialty medical care for a concussion as quickly as boys do, for reasons that are unclear, says Dr. Master, who co-authored the study. However, the difference in recovery time disappeared if both girls and boys got medical treatment within seven days of their injury. This makes early identification of concussion by kids and parents—and anyone working with kids in sports and activities such as coaches or athletic trainers—really essential.
Don't stay in the game. "We've seen from research that if athletes think they may have gotten a concussion and pull themselves out of the game quickly, they heal quicker than if they continue to play," Dr. Master says. Kids who are hit in the head during sports "and continue to play may make the injury absolutely worse."
Look for subtle symptoms. Symptoms can be harder to detect in children, especially those ages 5 to 11. "They may complain about headaches and dizziness," Dr. Master says, but there also may be less obvious symptoms. Those include sleep disruption—either sleeping too much or too little—and vision problems, including eye fatigue, Dr. Master adds.