Heads Up: Preventing Traumatic Brain Injury in Children

In 2014 alone, there were almost three million emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States related to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Almost one million of these injuries occurred in children.

A common type of TBI is a concussion. A concussion occurs when the brain suddenly moves back and forth—usually due to a sudden impact—causing a disruption in function.

No matter how mild a concussion may seem, all concussions are serious injuries.

Concussion usually occurs in contact or collision sports including football, lacrosse, soccer, and ice hockey.

Football can be especially risky. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children ages 6-14 who play tackle football sustained 15 times more head impacts than flag football athletes during a practice or game, and 23 times more hard-head impacts.

Whether your child is an aspiring athlete or bookworm, there are steps you can take to prevent TBI in your child. (And these tips are great for parents too!)

TBI prevention tips

  • Always wear seatbelts in the car.
  • Buckle children in safety seats properly on every drive.
  • Children should always wear a helmet that fits properly when biking, skating, skiing, horseback riding, or playing contact sports. A helmet should be secure and not move when your child shake their head, but not be uncomfortably tight.
  • Understand the concussion policies of your school or sports league.
  • Consider taking an ImPACT Baseline Test. This computerized neurocognitive test, available for people between age 12 and 80, can be used as part of a comprehensive pre- or post-concussion evaluation.
  • Children should wear a mouth guard when playing contact sports.
  • Model, expect, and reinforce safe play for your children.
  • Change the “win at all costs” approach to a “safety comes first” approach in youth sports.
  • Educate athletes on concussion safety and prevention.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible your child may still sustain a traumatic brain injury. If your child experiences a forceful blow or jolt to the head resulting in rapid movement of the head—even if they don’t lose consciousness immediately—watch for the following symptoms.

Symptoms of TBI

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Impaired thinking
  • Vision changes
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Exhaustion, sleeping more often or trouble falling asleep,
  • Emotional changes

If you suspect a TBI, call your pediatrician or bring your child to the emergency room for an evaluation.

By getting informed and taking some simple prevention steps, you can help keep your child’s brain healthy.

Learn more about Emergency & Trauma at South Shore Health.

This blog was authored by our Trauma Program team.