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July 11, 2013

Kids and sports: Playing it safe

(Continued)

Signs and symptoms: Loss of consciousness happens in fewer than 10 percent of concussions, Gioia said. If a child appears confused, stunned or unsure about what she is supposed to be doing, she might have a concussion, Gioia said. Symptoms also include headaches, a feeling of pressure in the head, dizziness, blurred vision or feeling like your head is fuzzy or foggy.

"When they raise those questions or symptoms, then we invoke the rule 'When in doubt, sit them out,' " Gioia said. "Remove the youngster from playing, let the parent know, and seek medical attention immediately."

Gioia and his colleagues have developed a smartphone app called Concussion Recognition and Response to help coaches and parents evaluate athletes after a blow to the head.

Treatment: If the child's headache is getting worse or she is not responding to questions, has trouble recognizing people, is slurring her speech or loses consciousness, go to the emergency room immediately, Gioia said. If the child is coherent but not feeling right and having some symptoms, call your pediatrician.

There is no set treatment for concussions that will fit all children, Gioia said, but parents and coaches should manage the child's activity level to give the brain time to heal itself. After a concussion, a child needs rest from physical and mental activities, and a gradual return to normal, as long as it doesn't aggravate her symptoms. If something does make symptoms worse, stop that activity.

"You have to figure out that sweet spot of how much activity you can tolerate without worsening your symptoms," Gioia said. "That's where careful management comes in."

Prevention: Gioia said parents should advocate with their coaches and youth sports organizations to follow the safest procedures possible. Many youth sports have altered their policies to increase safety, Gioia said. Football players are taught to tackle with their shoulders instead of leading with their heads, for example. Teach your child that it is not a matter of winning at all costs and that safety should be the top priority.

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