A concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), occurs when a sudden force on the head or body causes the brain to move inside the skull, injuring it. Common causes of concussions in children are falls, motor vehicle accidents, being struck by or against something, and assault. A significant proportion of concussions – about a third – are sports-related.
If your child has suffered a concussion and is experiencing symptoms, you may be wondering how long it will be before those symptoms go away.
Recovery From Initial Symptoms
Common symptoms that appear soon after the concussion was sustained include:
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Loss of balance
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory problems (remembering old information, making new memories)
- Poor concentration
- Learning problems
- Mood swings and irritability
The good news is that these symptoms typically go away on their own within the first 2-4 weeks after injury, at least after a first concussion.
Recovery From Persistent Symptoms
The bad news is that a portion of people develop what’s called post-concussion syndrome (PCS), where symptoms persist or appear several weeks or even months after the initial injury. The symptoms of PCS are similar to symptoms listed above. Up to 50% of people still have symptoms after 3 months, and 10-15% have symptoms after a year. (Read more about PCS on my blog here.)
Research tells us that children are more likely than adults to develop PCS, and younger children are more likely than older children to develop it. Other factors associated with an increased likelihood of developing PCS are repeated concussions, pre-existing learning disabilities and ADHD, and comorbid depression and anxiety.
PCS symptoms can persist for many months or, sometimes, years after the initial injury, and can interfere with your child’s academic and social life. Sensitivity to light and sounds can make it difficult for your child to stand being in the classroom. Memory and focus problems make it hard to concentrate in class and get homework done. Irritability and moodiness can cost friendships.
While PCS is challenging, remember that only a subset of children with concussions experience it, and that the symptoms do eventually go away for most children if they have a concussion. In the meantime, you can talk with your child’s teachers about making accommodations to help them succeed in school.
What You Can Do As A Parent
If your child has already sustained a concussion, you can communicate with their healthcare professionals for evaluations, to keep track of recovery, and to report any new symptoms you notice. You can speak with their teachers and administrators at school to make sure they’re getting the support they need. If the concussion was sports-related, you can also speak to their coaches to ensure that protocols are in place to help prevent and recognize concussions in all children who are at risk.
Learn More About Children and Concussion
There’s a lot to talk about on the topic of children and concussions, and that’s exactly what I did in this month’s interview. My subject was Dr. Maya Evans, a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician at Shriners Hospital for Children – Northern California in Sacramento and assistant clinical professor in the University of California – Davis Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Evans is board certified in PM&R, brain injury medicine, and pediatric rehabilitation medicine. She’s a specialist in adaptive sports and recreation and her clinical interests are treatment of children with brain injury, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida. Dr. Evans shares a lot of her knowledge, and experience and I encourage you to watch the full interview, right here.