Fall sports season demands attention to head injuries

Monday, August 23, 2010

The cicadas have been chirping for a while now, birds are beginning to gather in flocks for the trip south and there's no doubt fall is in the air.

With the fall sports season ready to begin, medical experts are urging everyone involved with sports to understand the risk of head injury and how best to react.

Football gets the attention because of its violent nature, but its players are well protected, and nearly all sports involve some risk of serious head injury.

Concussions can have a wide range of symptoms, said Peter Lennarson M.D., neurosurgeon at the Nebraska Medical Center, but there are physical signs you might see:

* Loss of consciousness

* Amnesia or trouble with short term memory

* Change in personality; being more irritable or emotional

* Headache

* Dizziness

"Any number of these signs and symptoms that go together around the time of a head injury, even if they show up a number of hours later, all are important things to consider, Dr. Lennarson said.

If a head injury happens during a game or practice, it is important that a player be checked and cleared before returning, he said.

"A sideline assessment can determine whether or not a player should go back in the game," Dr. Lennarson explained, "but also if they need to see a doctor or go right to the hospital for scan."

A player should not return to normal sports activities until all symptoms have cleared. Returning too soon could lead to more concussions and greater damage to the brain, he said.

"It can happen again, and a person really is at risk of permanent injury," Lennarson said. "It's not a matter of saying 'shake it off and get back out there.' These injuries are real, and there really are things we can do to help people recover."

Sometimes symptoms of a concussion may not appear until hours or days later. Other symptoms that may signal the need for medical attention include:

* Difficulty waking up

* Continuing nausea and vomiting

* Sensitivity to light and noise

Good athletes give it their all, and parents, coaches and teammates are there to encourage them to do just that. They all need to be aware of the danger of head injuries, however, and make sure they receive medical attention when needed.

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