October 11, 2006
Concussions were long thought of as relatively minor injuries. But new studies show that the injury, particularly when it happens to an athlete, could cause permanent problems.
300,000 children get sports-related concussions each year. Kerry Aldrich, 15, is one of them.
"I had a really bad headache, I could not concentrate during my classes, I was really dizzy, like just tired the whole day," explained Aldrich.
Doctor Eric Carson, the Executive Director of the McCue Center at the University of Virginia, says a concussion is like a bruise to the brain. He and physicians across the country say there's growing evidence that the injury may be more dangerous for children and teens.
"The brain is still developing during the younger years, compared to the adult," said Carson.
A young person's brain may be more vulnerable, and slower to heal. There's also a higher risk of long-term problems.
Concussions can be hard to detect, too. They don't cause bleeding or swelling in the brain. And they don't show up on X-rays.
"Beforehand we used to just kind of go out and put the finger in front of the kid or athlete, and say can you see this," said Carson. "Now we're recognizing that you have to look at some of their memory loss."
A new exam called an 'Impact' test measures attention span and memory. It can determine whether a person has a concussion, and how serious it is.
Doctors also say coaches are taking a more precautionary approach on the field.
"You're knocked out on the sidelines, you take a seat, and you go back in the game." said Carson of old coaching philosophies. "It's been over the last ten or fifteen years, we've gotten people to get out of that thought process."
So, for now, athletes like Aldrich will have to watch from the bench, because a bump on the head, could be a lot more serious than it sounds.