Concussion Diagnoses Among US Teens And Kids Rising: Why This Is A Good Sign

Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that more than 248,000 children and teenagers are sent to the emergency room per year because of sports and recreational activity-related concussions.

A new study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, however, suggests that the actual number is higher.

Alan Zhang, from the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center, and colleagues looked at the records of more than 8.8 million people in a one health insurance plan and found that 32 percent of those diagnosed with concussion between the years 2007 and 2014 were between 10 and 19 years old.

The concussion rate among teens between 15 and 19 years old was 16.5 cases for every 1,000 patients while the rate among kids between 10 and 14 years old was 10.5 per 1,000. The increase across all age groups was 60 percent.

Of these, 56 percent were diagnosed in the emergency room, 29 percent in a physician's office and the rest were seen in inpatient settings.

Zhang said that they have not determined the exact causes of these concussions, but it is possible that head injuries from engaging in sports and physical activities such as skateboarding and riding a bike are some main drivers.

Despite the growing occurrence of concussion among kids, the researchers said that parents should not be overly alarmed because most kids recover from a concussion without problems, and because engaging in physical activity is healthy.

The issue of sports-related concussion has also been receiving increasing attention. As a result, coaches, athletes and parents are now better at spotting and responding to a possible concussion.

The researchers, however, said that parents should take precautions such as making sure that the children wear helmets when they go biking, skateboarding, or skating. It is also essential that rules are enforced to reduce the odds of kids getting a dangerous blow to their head.

There are now laws that ensure kids get evaluated for potential concussion symptoms. The so called "return-to-play" laws require kids to be removed from a game as soon as a concussion is suspected. A concussed athlete also needs to get a doctor's approval before he can participate in the sports again.

Kenneth Podell, a neuropsychologist from the Houston Methodist Concussion Center, sees the increase in concussion diagnoses as a good sign, because this suggests that the condition is now being taken seriously as it should.

Zhang, on the other hand, said this could indicate that coaches and sports medicine professionals are getting better at detecting symptoms of concussion.

"The rates at which concussions are rising may in part be due to the rise in youth sports participation and also better diagnostic skills/training for coaches and sports medicine professionals," Zhang said (PDF).

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