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Concussions in kids: What to watch for

Line drawing of a brain viewed from above with a lightning bolt between the hemispheres.

Concussions are serious injuries that can have lasting effects. Learn the most common warning signs—and what to do next.

If you're parenting a young athlete, concussions may top your list of safety concerns—and with good reason. While they are rarely life-threatening, they put a child at risk for serious, sometimes lasting complications.

Coaches and trainers have a responsibility to help prevent, spot and respond to concussions during practice or play. But as a parent, you have an important role too. You can help recognize the signs of a concussion—and ensure that your child gets the care they need.

A brain injury by another name

Simply put, a concussion is a brain injury. It can be caused by a blow to the head or a hit to the body that jostles the brain inside the skull.

Of course, not all concussions happen during sports. Kids of any age can get a concussion if they fall and bump their head, for instance.

Head injuries are serious—and should be evaluated by a doctor. In rare instances, a concussion may cause blood to pool on the brain, a medical emergency.

Warning signs

Although every concussion can be a little different, some warning signs and symptoms are common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts, a child or teen who has a concussion may:

  • Have trouble remembering what happened right before or after the injury.
  • Have a blank stare or dazed look.
  • Appear confused.
  • Have balance problems or dizziness.
  • Talk slowly.
  • Pass out briefly.
  • Show other unusual behavior or mood changes.
  • Have a headache.
  • Have an upset stomach or throw up.
  • Be sensitive to light or noises.
  • Feel groggy or very tired.
  • Have trouble concentrating.
  • Have blurry or double vision.
  • Say they don't feel right.

Although many signs and symptoms of a concussion happen right after an injury, some might show up hours or even days later. So it's important to keep checking for any of these warning signs for at least a few days.

If your child shows any of the following signs of possible bleeding in the brain, call 911 right away:

  • One enlarged pupil.
  • Being unable to wake up.
  • Slurred speech, numbness or clumsiness.
  • Shaking or seizures.
  • Headache, vomiting or nausea that gets worse or won't stop.
  • Increasing confusion or odd behavior.
  • Passing out.

Infants and toddlers might also refuse to eat or not be able to stop crying.

Getting better gradually

If your child has a concussion, they'll need to rest for a few days. Make sure they stop playing or practicing (if the injury happened during sports) and get plenty of sleep. Kids who go back to play too soon are more likely to have another concussion. And repeated concussions can have lifelong effects—or even be fatal.

Full recovery can take a few weeks. In the meantime, follow the advice of your child's doctor. Among other things, they may want your child to:

  • Avoid strenuous activities.
  • Limit screen time, caffeine and loud music.
  • Gradually return to school and other activities.
  • Be rechecked later.

If any of your child's concussion signs return, linger or get worse, talk with a doctor right away, CDC recommends.

And remember: Your child should not go back to practice or play until a doctor says it's OK to do so.

Play it safe

Read up on how parents can help prevent school sports injuries.

Reviewed 7/19/2024

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