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What moms need to know about secondary impact syndrome

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Concussion after concussion

As if getting your child through a head injury isn’t stressful enough, once you child has experienced a concussion, you can never take head impacts for granted again. Even if you believe your child to be fully recovered from a head injury, subsequent concussions, particularly those shortly after the initial injury, come with even greater risk to your child. And if the injury is sustained before first recovery is complete, your child is at risk for secondary impact syndrome.

Boy in helmet

Although you hope that a concussion is a one time event, the consequences of that one event can last longer than you might imagine. As a parent, you need to be aware of the risks and help communicate this (appropriately, of course), for your child. This can be a real challenge with teens -- adolescents are not exactly known for stellar decision making skills!

Rare complications

Secondary impact syndrome is a rare but extremely serious complication that can arise from a head blow -- even a seemingly minor one -- before a person has fully recovered from a prior head injury. The brain swells rapidly after the second impact, causing immediate complications and damage. Teens especially seem to be at risk for secondary impact syndrome and it is potentially fatal. Although it is rare, it does highlight the need to be vigilant about a child's recovery from a brain injury and make sure your child has medical clearance before participating in contact sports/activities after a concussion.

Cumulative consequences

Multiple concussions, even those over multiple years and not indicating secondary impact syndrome, can have cumulative impact on the brain. Some of the complications from multiple concussions can show up years later, in adulthood, and include issues such as dementia, issues with long-term memory, anxiety and depression. Recent scientific studies on retired football players clearly show the damage that can be incurred by multiple traumatic brain injuries, of which concussion is included.

Appropriate precautions

If you've already had to parent your child through a concussion, redouble your efforts to make sure appropriate precautions are taken at home and recreationally. Reiterate the importance of and insist on use of helmets for certain activities, for example, and ask the coach about their understanding of and training regarding safety and injury management. Take the simplest steps first to try to reduce risk -- short of sending your child out into the world in full body pads every day.

Concussions should not be taken lightly. They are scary! While we cannot prevent our kids from ever taking risks or getting hurt, we can be aware of risk, mitigate risk where appropriate and educate ourselves so we can manage a situation, should it arise, in the most effective way possible. Take care of that kid's gorgeous noggin!

Learn how to prevent head injuries in kids

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