Protecting the head

Concern about concussions has reached the highest levels. The White House is convening a Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit on Thursday, May 29, bringing together athletes, parents and researchers to focus attention on the risks of head injury to athletes of all ages, all sports and both sexes.

The hope is that the conference will raise awareness about the problem of head injuries, and to encourage public and private organizations to invest in research to better identify, treat and prevent these injuries.

It’s a major problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the number of sports-related concussions in the United States at some 1.6 million to 3.8 million each year. Another study puts the odds of an athlete in a contact sport suffering a concussion as high as 19 percent per season.

“Our brain is our most valuable resource,” said Dr. Lillian Liao, assistant professor of surgery at UT Health Science Center San Antonio, and medical director of pediatric trauma and burns at University Hospital. “When our brain is injured, our body will not function well. Sports-related head injuries affect nearly 250,000 children who present to the emergency room, and countless others who go unrecognized.”

University Health System’s trauma team is also planning a major public awareness campaign later this year, hoping to work with area schools and school districts to make parents, students and faculty aware of the symptoms and steps to take to reduce the risk of permanent disabilities.

The issue has been particularly visible among the ranks of pro athletes, with the NFL announcing a $765 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by former players in August. That was followed by more litigation involving National Hockey League players.

So what can parents and coaches do? Know the symptoms of concussion. If any symptoms are seen after a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body, the person should be kept out of play that day, and until he or she can be evaluated and cleared by a health care professional trained to evaluate concussion.

“An injured brain that is not allowed to fully recover can cause sudden death when injured again,” Liao added. “We would never let a kid with a broken leg go back to playing football or soccer until the bone is healed. Why should would we even consider doing that to our most valuable resource?”

And everyone should be aware that concussions are serious — even those that seem to be a minor bump on the head. Recognition and proper response to concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death.

More resources are below:

CDC concussion page

CDC concussion in high school sports tool kit

Get a heads up on concussion site (CDC Foundation)

Mayo Clinic concussion site

Brain Injury Association of America