Minnesota high school students suffered nearly 3,000 sports-related concussions during the 2013-14 school year, according to estimates based on voluntary reports to the Minnesota Department of Health by schools in the Twin Cities. While the concussions range from mild to severe, the point is that each one is considered a brain injury and that’s serious business.

As local football, soccer and cross country teams begin practice and games, it is important for athletes, parents and coaches know basic and important information about concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  Sometimes the signs of a concussion or TBI are obvious; the patient is unconscious or acting “out of it”. But signs and symptoms are not always immediate. That’s why it is so important to understand the main causes and symptoms of concussions and brain injuries which are often more serious than just a “bump on the head”.

Immediately following a TBI, two things happen. First the brain tissue reacts to the trauma with biochemical and physiological responses to brain cells that have been damaged or even destroyed. The second and more commonly known reaction, is the loss of consciousness which can last minutes, hours or even longer.

Other symptoms of a concussion or brain injury include short or long term changes in thinking, sensation, language and emotion.

Here are some of the physical symptoms a young athlete may experience if he or she has recently suffered a concussion or TBI:

• Headache or “pressure” in head

• Nausea or vomiting

• Balance problems or dizziness

• Fatigue or feeling tired

• Blurry or double vision

• Sensitivity to light or noise

• Numbness or tingling

• Does not “feel right”

For adults, here are short and longer-term symptoms you might notice in an athlete who has suffered a concussion or TBI:

• Appears dazed or stunned

• Is confused about events

• Answers questions slowly

• Repeats questions

• Can’t recall events prior to the hit, bump, or fall

• Loses consciousness (even briefly)

• Shows behavior or personality changes

• Forgets class schedule or assignments

The most important thing to know if you or a loved one has sustained a blow to the head is to seek medical attention, especially if you are noticing any symptoms out of the ordinary. The key to recovering from even less severe head trauma is rest. For young athletes sustaining a concussion, it is important to stop play and sit it out, immediately. Your brain needs time to properly heal, so rest is necessary. Athletes and children should be closely monitored by coaches upon resuming play.

Prevention is key to protecting yourself from serious head injuries. When necessary, wear a helmet especially in sports like football and while up at bat for softball or baseball. These are instances when a tackle or pitch can cause irreversible damage to an athlete who isn’t wearing head protection.

Repeat concussions cause cumulative effects on the brain. Successive concussions can have devastating consequences, including brain swelling, permanent brain damage, long-term disabilities, or even death.

— Kurt Belk is ER physician and medical director of The Urgency Room in Vadnais Heights.

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