Nearly 300,000 children go to the ER every year for brain injuries, CDC study says

SEATTLE -- Spring sports are around the corner for kids, and that means families are getting ready for lots of time outdoors.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Months, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing 283,000 children under the age of 18 go into the emergency department every year for sports and recreation related traumatic brain injuries.

“One thing that stood out to me is that younger children are going to the ER more frequently than older children,” said Michael Erickson, M.D, sports medicine fellowship director at Swedish Medical Center.

The study also revealed males had approximately twice the rate of traumatic brain injury related visits to the ER as did females. The rates also generally increased with age, with children ages 10-17 having the highest rates.

This report found that contact sports resulted in nearly twice as many traumatic brain injury emergency department visits as did non-contact sports and four times those associated with recreation-related activities.

“I still have kids who present late for concussions. I still have kids who have more serious symptoms that didn’t get attention as early as I would like,” said Erickson.

He added that if concussions happen during practice or a game, “No child should be cleared for concussion on day of play. Concussion symptoms are delayed. They may look okay, but within a few hours or a day they can present with symptoms, so you have to give them a full 24 hours,” said Erickson. “For me the study told me that the most vulnerable athletes aren’t getting the attention they need,” he added.

He says younger athletes, especially under the age of 12, suffer more serious long-term consequences from head injuries and making resources available to them in the field could reduce ER visits.

“People trained in sidelines that are educated and skilled in concussions and maybe that’s making sure every child has access to an athletic trainer, especially during competition,” said Erickson.

Erickson says not every child needs to go to the ER. If symptoms are mild, like a slight headache or light sensitivity, he says that can generally wait a day.

Hospitals in the Puget Sound area and primary care offices will often immediately accommodate a child for a concussion evaluation. Erickson says if a child is vomiting or acting strangely, a visit to the ER is a good idea and the bottom line is that head injuries should not be ignored and always evaluated by a provider trained in concussions.

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