Creating Awareness of Concussion Symptoms

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November 16, 2012 - 6:30am

For young people between the age of 15 to 24, sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sports concussions have reached an “epidemic level”. NET Radio’s Roger Bartlett talked with Nebraska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joann Schaefer about Nebraska’s new “Concussion Awareness Law” which took effect in July. Among the requirements of the law, schools and sports organizations have to make available concussion training and follow rules about when an athlete suspected of having a concussion can return to play.

Dr. Joann Schaefer, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services: A concussion is an injury to the brain. It causes a temporary pause in the brain’s activity, but you might not realize that so the symptoms can be everything from a mild confusion, gosh I don’t feel like myself to lights out and you’re unconscious for a little bit and then you wake up and you have some more symptoms like sensitivity to sound, nausea, vomiting, pretty profound symptoms that everyone recognizes that you really got a clunk on the head.

Roger Bartlett, NET Radio: So in a nutshell, what does the Nebraska Concussion Awareness Law http://dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/concussion/Pages/Home.aspx do?

(Photo by Nancy Finken, NET Radio)

Dr. Joann Schaefer, Nebraska's chief medical officer, says youth are more susceptible to concussions.

Dr. Schaefer: Well, what we’re really trying to do with this is bring the awareness out across the state to the severity of a concussion and what that means to your brain and to get coaches and parents to realize that if a kid gets a concussion, it’s not something that you should just return to play, that there needs to be a systematic approach to concussion and that you take the kid out of play and that they are evaluated and that they return to play when they’re ready and when they’re symptom free and that systematic approach is what’s going to protect the kiddo’s brain. And we need to teach kids that it’s not safe to play when you’ve had a concussion. You know you’re only born with one brain and we want to protect it. And the problem is that kids who have a concussion and they go back into play and they get a second blow, and that is causing more permanent damage. And we know that now and you can see it in professional athletics across the country where they’re really stepping up and taking responsibility for this as well. So in kids, for a variety of reasons, are more susceptible to concussion as well and there’s been a long standing belief that you just shake it off and go back into the game, but that’s not true. By bringing awareness to it, we’re getting these kids safer.

Bartlett: How do you determine that an athlete is OK to play?

Dr. Schaefer: That’s why we have the curriculum out there that’s been approved, that’s on the website. It’s free and all of the coaches and athletic trainers and everybody can take this curriculum, the parents are even welcome to view it and look at it, but the health professionals are the ones who need to evaluate the kids. The licensed health professionals, they are the ones with the training  that can tell you when the kiddo is able to return to play. But the symptoms that everyone needs to watch for are, like I reviewed in the beginning, sensitivity to sound, sensitivity to light, confusion, emotional irritability, inability to focus, double or blurry vision. Obviously anyone who has been conked on the head and appears dazed or stunned or is vomiting, those are serious signs and they need to be evaluated immediately. But it’s some of those subtle signs maybe the next in class, you know they got knocked on the head and then the next day in class they’re really struggling to focus, those the things we really want parents to pay attention to and realize that that can very well be related to the knock on the head they got the day before and they need to be evaluated and they shouldn’t go to practice that day and just assume that it’s safe to return to play. We want kids to be out there and active. One of the biggest issues I have is that kids are not active enough and they’re getting too much screen time. We have an enormous problem with obesity and overweight in children, so I want kids active, but we need to do it safely. We know more about concussion now than we ever have before, so this is a good systematic approach to making sure that we’re keeping our kids safe and it’s now state law.

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