What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury caused by a bump or blow to the head or body that makes the brain move back and forth quickly inside the skull. Your child does not have to lose consciousness or be “knocked out” to have a concussion. Even what seems to be a mild bump to the head or body can be serious.

Signs or symptoms of a concussion may last for days, weeks or longer after the injury. When the symptoms of a concussion continue for months, it is called post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Doctors and researchers do not know why some people recover in 1 to 2 weeks while others take months.

Concussions in children and teens

Concussions can happen to any child or teen. Common causes of concussions in children and teens include:

  • Sports injuries, such as football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, ice hockey, lacrosse, gymnastics and cheerleading
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Being hit by an object or another person

Children and teens suffering from a concussion may take longer to heal and resume normal activities than adults because their brains are still growing and developing. While most kids get better quickly after a concussion without any permanent damage, it is important that their brain heal completely from the concussion before participating in sports or other physical activities.

Your child or teen may minimize their symptoms in order to get back to their sport as soon as possible. Remind your child that it is important to tell the truth about their symptoms.

If your child returns to play before the brain heals from the original concussion, any additional bump or blow may cause more damage. In rare cases, this results in longer-lasting symptoms, permanent mental and physical disabilities or even death (in extremely rare circumstances).

If your child has had a concussion before, the chance of having another during their youth is higher. Tell the coach and athletic trainer if your child has ever had a concussion, and speak with a healthcare provider to find out what sports and other activities your child can safely participate in.

Concussions at Seattle Children’s

Our team brings together some of the nation’s top specialists who have training on how to treat concussions and brain injuries. We are experienced in evaluating, diagnosing and managing any level of injury to your child’s brain. We will also work with you to make a treatment plan to help your child safely return to play if they participate in athletics.

Symptoms of Concussion

Concussions – whether sport related or non-sport related – pose potential risks to children and teens if they don’t get the proper medical treatment. Make sure your child knows the signs and symptoms of a concussion and isn’t afraid to tell an adult if they have any of them.

  • Signs to watch for if your child gets a bump or blow to the head or body
    • Appears dazed or stunned
    • Can’t remember events before or after the hit or fall
    • Answers questions slowly
    • Becomes clumsy
    • Has changes in eating habits
    • Is confused about assignment or position (if participating in athletics)
    • Forgets sports plays or routines (if participating in athletics)
    • Is unsure of the game, score or other team (if participating in athletics)
    • Shows changes in behavior or personality
    • Loses consciousness (is no longer awake and aware)
    • Has changes in sleep habits
  • Common symptoms of concussion
    • Headache or “pressure in the head”
    • Upset stomach or throwing up
    • Balance problems or dizziness
    • Double or blurry vision
    • Sensitivity to light or sound
    • Confusion
    • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, groggy or more tired than usual
    • Trouble focusing or memory problems
    • Doesn’t “feel right”
    • Grouchy
  • Urgent symptoms requiring immediate medical attention
    • Speech problems
    • Trouble being woken up
    • Seizures or convulsions
    • Weakness on one side of the body

What you should do if you suspect a concussion

Call your child’s doctor or bring your child to our Emergency Department if you suspect that your child has a concussion. It is important to seek treatment even if your child’s injury seems minor and did not result in a loss of consciousness. Some children and teens may experience symptoms after the injury occurs.

Diagnosing a Concussion

At the Concussion Program, we will give your child a complete evaluation in order to make an accurate diagnosis. This will include a neurological exam and an assessment of their memory, brain function and physical balance. The more information that you, other family members or friends give, the better, especially when your child is confused or has memory loss.

Depending on your child’s evaluation, we may recommend a CT (computed tomography) scan (PDF) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) (PDF) scan of the brain. Even if the scans are normal, your child may still have symptoms.

Neuropsychological testing may be recommended if symptoms are severe or not improving as expected. This test can be helpful to find out what parts of the brain are most affected and if any cognitive (mental) rehabilitation is needed, or if we can help work with your child’s school.

Treating a Concussion

The care team at Seattle Children’s will help you decide the best treatment for your child’s injury over a given period. Your healthcare provider may recommend the following treatment options for your child: 

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep.
  • Avoid playing video games and limit the use of computers, televisions, phones and other electronic devices.
  • Work with your child’s school to let them know that your child may need extra time for schoolwork and homework and to request that tests be taken later. In some cases, your child may need to limit time at school or stay home until symptoms improve.
  • Avoid participation in sports and any other physical activities until your child is evaluated and given approval by a licensed healthcare provider to participate in those activities. All children and teens in Washington state who show signs of a concussion must get written approval from a doctor or other licensed healthcare provider trained in the evaluation and treatment of concussions before they can resume play in a sport.
  • Once a licensed healthcare provider has cleared your child, we will create a plan to slowly let them resume their regular physical and mental activities.

Contact Us

If you think your child or teen has a sport-related concussion and needs evaluation or care, schedule an appointment with our Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Department or Rehabilitation Medicine Department at 206-987-2109. To schedule an appointment for a non-sport-related concussion, call Rehabilitation Medicine at 206-987-2114. Appointments may be available in Bellevue, Everett, Federal Way or Seattle.