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9 Concussion Myths Every Parent Must Know

Brain injuries are scary, but having the right information can make recovery drastically faster and better for your child.

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Myth: Helmets are an effective way to prevent concussions

Fact: Helmets are important, but they’re better at preventing skull injuries than concussions. Concussions occur because the brain hits the inner skull, so helmets do little to prevent the brain injury. “The brain is much like a yolk in an egg shell,” says Michael Collins, PhD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “A helmet can’t prevent the brain from moving inside the skull.” While helmets are still necessary protection from injury, make sure your kids don’t assume their heads are totally protected inside. Some athletes, under the false assumption that their brain is safe under a helmet, actually up their risk of concussion by using their head as a weapon in sports, Dr. Collins says. Here’s why you should never buy a helmet at a garage sale.

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Myth: My kid can deal with the concussion after the game

Fact: Taking injured kids out of a sports game will help them recover quicker, and thus get them back on the field even sooner. In fact, Dr. Collins’ most recent study, printed in the journal Pediatrics, found that the average recovery time for sports-related concussions was twice as long for kids who kept playing after their injury as those who were removed from the game or practice. “Even though on average they played for 20 minutes, that group of kids had far worse outcomes than those taken out immediately,” he says. “If they’re treated properly and don’t return to play until recovery occurs, we can usually get kids safely back to play.” Here are other health problems you should treat immediately.

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Myth: Unconsciousness is the surest sign of a bad concussion

Fact: Dizziness after a hit is a much better indicator that the person will have lasting symptoms. An American Journal of Sports Medicine study that Dr. Collins co-authored found that high school football players who said they were dizzy after an injury were at an almost 6.5 times higher risk of a long recovery from a concussion, while those who’d lost consciousness were at just a 0.28 higher risk. Subtle changes like headache, emotional or personality changes, and nausea can all signal a concussion. “All those signs and symptoms mean a chemical change has occurred that produced those symptoms,” Dr. Collins says. “The subtleties of the injury are what make it difficult.” Look out for these concussion symptoms you should never ignore.

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Myth: All concussions are the same

Fact: There are six types of concussions, and each requires unique treatment. A concussion could cause problems with cognition, movement and motion interpretation, eyes, migraines, the neck, anxiety and mood, or a combination of any of them, Dr. Collins says. “If there are 30 types of knee injuries, why do we think there’s only one type of concussion?” he says.

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Myth: The best treatment is sitting in a dark room

Fact: The right treatment depends on what type of concussion a person has. So while resting could help a migraine, it might make motion-related problems last longer. “Depending on the type of concussion, resting might impede recovery,” Dr. Collins says. “Treatment and recommendations are predicated on what type of concussion you have.” The best way to determine the right treatment is to see a specialist, he says.

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Myth: Only football players need to worry about concussions

Fact: Concussions occur in every sport. Whether it’s an airborne field hockey ball or a blow during a basketball game, every athlete is at some risk for concussion. But that doesn’t mean you should banish your kid to the sidelines. “Sports are the most wonderful thing in the world for kids to get involved with,” Dr. Collins says. “If a concussion occurs, make sure it’s managed.”

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Myth: Boys are most at risk of concussion

Fact: Girls are more likely than boys to get a concussion, and they take longer to recover, Dr. Collins says. One study has shown that female basketball, soccer, and ice hockey players are more likely to experience concussions than men playing the same sports, and softball players were twice as likely to have one than baseball players.

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Myth: There’s no active treatment

Fact: Concussions are treatable. “The best news of all is there are so many advancements in so many types of concussions, and we have active treatment to get them back in play faster,” Dr. Collins says. “This is a highly treatable injury.” The key is to visit a doctor who specializes in concussions, which might not include your child’s regular physician. “You want an expert who has the tools and understands those tools and can implement an effective treatment program,” Dr. Collins says.

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Myth: The harder the blow, the worse the symptoms

Fact: Your kid’s medical history probably is a better predictor of symptoms than how bad the hit seemed, Dr. Collins says. For instance, kids with eye problems like a lazy eye are more likely to have eye concerns from a concussion, children prone to car sickness could have more motion sensitivity, and those with learning disabilities are more likely to have cognitive problems. “It may not be how hard they hit their head, but what they bring to the table,” Dr. Collins says. “It hits the system of the brain that’s most vulnerable, so if you bring a system that may have to work harder than others’, that decompensates more easily, and you’ll have a little longer outcome.”

Originally Published in Reader's Digest