Nearly 2 million American children and teenagers may suffer concussions yearly, new research says. The same study reports that the frequency of head injuries among the young has been underestimated for years.
The researchers compiled and reviewed data from hospitals, doctors, and athletic trainers. They found that an estimated 1 million to 1.9 million concussions occur per year among children and teenagers 18 years old and caused by sports and recreation-related injuries.
However, over half a million of these concussions are not seen in emergency rooms or doctors, which accounts for the lower official records.
Dr. Mersine Bryan, lead researcher and pediatrician at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital, says, “There is a lot of uncertainty in how many concussions from sports and recreation occur each year because many concussions are not reported.” Bryan adds,
Better surveillance for concussions due to sports and recreational activities is needed, so we can understand how kids are getting concussions and ways we can prevent concussions.
These concussions are often more severe than people realize. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a blow to the head that results in a concussion can damage brain cells, creating chemical changes that might affect brain function.
The researchers used three national databases for the study, to try and get an accurate number of total childhood head injuries. They noted that other studies had been limited to only high school injuries or ER visits.
Among children diagnosed with a concussion, almost 378,000 were checked by doctors. 115,000 to 167,000 were treated in emergency rooms, and some 3,000 to 5,000 were hospitalized, the results stated. Between 500,000 to 1.2 million concussions were reported to athletic trainers, which accounted for 23 to 53% of sports and recreation-related head injuries among high school students.
The study also showed that concussions were classified as sports-related if patient records mentioned a sport, no matter if the injury was caused by a fall, collision or other incidents. Concussions were tagged as recreation-related if they were mentioned to have happened in playground-type places or during activities like bicycling or skating.
Dr. John Kuluz, director of traumatic brain injury and neurorehabilitation at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, says that even these numbers may be too small, as doctors make errors in coding on medical forms. “The main problem I have with these estimates is that they are based on diagnostic codes,” he says. “Many doctors do not use the code for concussion. I see it time and again – they use a code like closed head injury, because it’s easier to click on.”
A similar study published in JAMA Pediatrics reported that numerous childhood concussions are unreported. In the study, four out of five children were diagnosed with head injuries at a primary health facility, not emergency rooms.
Dr. Debra Houry, an injury specialist with the CDC, says that more action is needed to monitor concussions in children treated outside the ER. She says, “Better estimates of the number, causes and outcomes of concussion will allow us to more effectively prevent and treat them, which is a priority area for CDC’s Injury Center.”
Kuluz recommends that parents watch out for symptoms such as confusion or dizziness in their children, and take them to the emergency room for diagnosing and treatment.
The research was published in the journal Pediatrics.