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There Are No 'Mild Concussions' When Kids Are Involved.

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 21, 2000 -- Diehard sports fans admire athletes who get knocked for a loop but manage to stagger onto their feet and get back into the game. But here's a sobering thought for soccer moms and dads, or anyone who cheers on kids at play: Even a so-called 'mild' concussion could impair children's ability to learn and develop to their full intellectual potential, warn brain researchers in the September issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Injuries to the brain that occur during a critical "window" of development may close that window forever, suggest David Hovda, PhD, and colleagues from the division of neurosurgery and the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A concussion is an injury to the brain that occurs from trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the head by a hard object such as a baseball bat, hockey puck, or football helmet. The force of the blow can cause the brain to be shaken inside the skull, and may result in a loss of consciousness or symptoms such as dizziness, headache, confusion, nausea and vomiting, or blurred vision.

"The report indicates that there probably isn't anything mild about mild traumatic brain injury," Hovda tells WebMD. During development, a head injury may compromise a child's ability to excel in activities that he or she would normally excel in, he says.

"For example, if children are having problems in school or emotional problems, if they've had a previous or recent mild traumatic brain injury this particular fact should not be overlooked," he says.

The good news is that a single episode of brain injury may cause only a temporary interruption in learning or development -- as long as the child is protected from a second injury.

"Once a child has sustained an injury, that child absolutely, positively, without fail must have their brain protected from further injury," Gregory J. O'Shanick, MD, national medical director of the Brain Injury Association, tells WebMD. "These kids are at increased risk for losing more than their peers who have not had a previous injury."

Protection may mean preventing an 8-year-old child from playing football because when he was 5, he suffered an injury that caused him to black out for 10 minutes. "He does not have the room to lose anything at this point, and so we have to become even more restrictive, unfortunately. It ain't easy, but that's what one has to do to be a responsible parent," O'Shanick says.

Of even greater concern, Hovda says, are injuries that may occur during key periods of brain development, when the brain is particularly "plastic," or receptive to acquiring new information, such as learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument.

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