Health Buzz: More Kids Being Treated for Concussions

How to reduce the risk of sports concussions in young athletes; how to encourage helmet use in teens.

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ER Visits for Kids’ Concussions Jump

The number of kids treated in emergency rooms for sports- and recreation-related brain injuries has increased significantly since 2001, federal health officials said Thursday. Between 2001 and 2009, ER visits—spurred by bicycling, football, and playground accidents—jumped 60 percent for kids ages 19 and younger. That translates into 258,418 cases in 2009, compared with 153,375 in 2001, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the findings aren't necessarily negative: Visits likely increased because parents and coaches are being more careful about getting head injuries treated. "It's a good increase, if that makes any sense," Steven Marshall, interim director of the University of North Carolina's Injury Prevention and Research Center, told the Associated Press. "These injuries were always there. It's not that there are more injuries now. It's just that now people are getting treatment that they weren't getting before."

  • Head Injury Can Be Hard to Spot, Especially in Kids
  • Natasha Richardson and Head Injuries: Know the Warning Signs
  • How to Reduce the Risks of Sports Concussions in Young Athletes

    Student athletes risk concussion in many sports, and it's tempting for coaches and players to ignore the fact that concussions are traumatic brain injuries that can lead to permanent disability or death. Fortunately, attitudes are changing, thanks to publicity on the devastating brain injuries suffered by some pro football players, as well as a push by doctors to be more proactive in treating concussions.

    That may be why a report in Pediatrics found that from 1997 to 2007, the number of emergency room visits for concussions in 8- to 13-year-olds doubled, and more than doubled in 14- to 19-year-olds. Parents may be more aware that head injuries need medical attention, leading to more ER visits. Or it could be that young athletes are playing harder and getting hurt more often, U.S. News reported in 2010.

    Young athletes are particularly susceptible to long-term brain damage because their brains are still developing. So parents have to get on their game and make sure that their children know that even a mild concussion is a serious injury that needs time to heal. Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics say that any child who has suffered a concussion should be evaluated by a doctor and cleared before returning to play. [Read more: How to Reduce the Risks of Sports Concussions in Young Athletes.]

    • How to Protect a Teen Athlete From Sports Injury
    • Had a Concussion? Don't Panic, but Do Be Cautious
    • Monkey See, Monkey Do: Teens Mimic Parents' Helmet-Wearing Habits

      Teenagers do pay attention to what adults do, at least when it comes to wearing motorcycle helmets. That's the news from a study in Pediatrics, which found that teenagers are more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries in motorcycle crashes in states where helmets are required for motorcyclists under age 21, but not for adults, U.S. News reported in 2010.

      You might think this bit of data applies just to families with motorcyclists, but that's not so. Parents often think that teenagers ignore them, and teens don't hesitate to give that impression. The motorcycle-helmet study is just the latest in a pile of research showing that teenagers really do watch parents' actions closely, and emulate them. Teenagers whose parents don't exercise are more likely to be couch potatoes. Parents who watch a lot of TV tend to have children who log a lot of screen time. And parents who model other safe behavior, whether it's not texting while driving or never driving after drinking alcohol, are going to have an easier time getting kids to follow those rules, too.

      Bicycle helmets are also effective in reducing injuries among children and teens, even though there's far less velocity involved with these two-wheelers. Making bicycle helmets mandatory for youths reduced the injury rate by 24 percent the year after North Carolina passed a bike helmet law in 2001. But children and teens are all too willing to skip wearing helmets if they don't have to. Only about 25 percent of children always wear bike helmets, according to a 2004 study, even though most own them. Perhaps not surprisingly, most state and local bicycle helmet laws require them for children and teens, but not for adults. [Read more: Monkey See, Monkey Do: Teens Mimic Parents' Helmet-Wearing Habits.]