Children's Health

Concussions Hit Home With Student Athletes

Carly Paganelli knows a thing or two about concussions – she experienced four in the last five years. An avid basketball player, she was sidelined and unable to play high school basketball on three different occasions. As summer wraps up and student athletes gear up for fall sports, experts at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital encourage coaches and parents to be mindful of the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

“A concussion is one of the most common forms of traumatic brain injury,” said Stanley Skarli, M.D., neurosurgeon, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Concussions are caused by a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. They can happen from something as simple as a child falling out of a grocery cart or a player colliding with a fellow athlete on the field. Concussions don’t discriminate and are a risk for any child.”

Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Ringing ears
  • Vision disturbance
  • Loss of balance
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea

“When a concussion occurs at home or on the playing field, children should be observed for any immediate dangers,” added Skarli. “If it is a mild concussion, children need to be watched for symptoms. This requires repeated evaluations of their ability to focus and function under stress, and checking for symptoms that suggest they are not completely normal.”

Even if symptoms subside, return-to-play is not immediate.

“The general rule is that if they’re not acting normal, athletes should not return to play,” explained Skarli. “Several different return-to-play guidelines exist but all require athletes to be free of symptoms. The severity and duration of the symptoms determines how long the athlete should refrain from activity.”

A player returning too early could suffer from “second impact syndrome,” which may be fatal. This problem is caused by a loss of the automatic control of blood vessels to the brain. Never return to a sports activity until you are cleared by a doctor.

Paganelli suffered a fourth concussion in November 2006. Unrelated to sports, she fell 10 feet from her attic ceiling. After three months of chronic headaches, moodiness and the desire to nap, Paganelli was referred to the post concussion program at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Paganelli finished outpatient therapy in August and will start college this fall.

“Most children get better after a concussion without any permanent damage,” said Skarli. “Children may exhibit signs of concussion for weeks to months. Repeated concussions could cause permanent damage. After several concussions, a physician may talk with you and your child about changing sports.”

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is a Grand Rapids-based hospital serving children throughout Michigan. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians with specialized training in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. We care for 7,600 children on an inpatient basis and 190,000 children at outpatient sites annually. The staff at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation. The children’s hospital is one of seven hospitals in the Spectrum Health system. Visit’‘to learn more or’‘to learn about the new hospital opening in 2011.