Some facts about concussions:

-You don’t have to be knocked out to have one.

-There’s no such thing as a “ding.” It’s a concussion.

-The brain is resilient, but not taking concussions seriously can result in permanent damage. With spring sports seasons about to gear up, for children and adults, it’s time for a few reminders about the seriousness of concussions.

What is a concussion?

It’s basically a disturbance in brain function, caused by trauma, says physician Mark Stovak, medical director of the Via Christi Sports Medicine Clinic. Every one is different, and each can cause a range of symptoms.

Concussions are simple or complex. Complex means symptoms last beyond seven to 10 days.

A study in the Journal of Athletic Training estimates that 300,000 sports-related concussions occur every year in the United States. That doesn’t count concussions from other sources, such as car accidents or playground roughhousing.

The study, of high school and college athletes, found that concussion rates were highest in football and soccer – and that, in sports played by both sexes, girls had more concussions than boys.

What should you do?

If someone has had a blow to the head, keep an eye on things, at least overnight, to make sure the person is alert. Avoid anti-inflammatories or anything else that might increase the risk of bleeding, because bleeding in the brain requires hospital treatment.

Symptoms sometimes don’t show up until a few days after the injury. Give the brain time to heal. Avoid activities that raise the heart rate, such as exercise. Stovak says some recommend that children not even be sent to school until they are free of symptoms, because focusing and concentration can be tough.

People with prolonged symptoms or a specific problem, such as being unable to move their right arm, might need an MRI or CAT scan, Stovak says.

It may take months for the symptoms to disappear. Resuming activities too quickly can put the brain at risk for additional injury.

Repeated concussions can cause permanent damage, leading to memory and concentration problems and poor brain function.

Do helmets help?

Batting helmets have helped, Stovak says. But there aren’t many good studies about other sports, such as soccer or skiing. Wear protective equipment if it’s available, he says, but don’t substitute it for good judgment if you get “dinged.”

Katie’s story

Katie McDermott, now 15, stepped on a skateboard while chatting in the driveway with a friend in 2004. The skateboard went out from under her.

“One of the kids came in and got me and said that Katie had hit her head and was acting goofy,” said mom Karen McDermott. “She knew who I was,” but the questions she was asking told McDermott that something was wrong – Katie had no short-term memory.

They went to a minor emergency center and McDermott was advised to keep an eye on Katie, waking her every two hours through the night to check for problems.

“It was scary,” McDermott says, even though Katie’s memory started coming back by midday the next day. McDermott can laugh now: The accident happened Halloween night, so every time the doorbell rang through the evening, “It was like, “Who’s here?’ And she would be so surprised. It drove the rest of us crazy.”

Luke’s story

Just before Christmas, Luke Barnwell collided with another player during a Bishop Caroll-Kapaun Mount Carmel basketball game. He shook it off and took three more charges as the game progressed, but he kept insisting, “I can play.” “By the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter, he was about ready to vomit,” says his mom, Sandy Barnwell.

Barnwell watched her son through the night and over Christmas vacation. Lights and noise continued to bother him, and Barnwell’s normally easygoing son became irritable and forgetful, so right after the first of the year they made an appointment with Stovak. Stovak told Luke, 17, there’d be no sports until the symptoms were gone. The symptoms continued for about three weeks, but Luke is back to basketball now.

-Physician Mark Stovak

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