Concussions in young people can cause more damage, doctors say
Isaac Levine should be out on the ice at the Cabin John Ice Rink with his teammates and in school with his classmates.
Instead, though, after suffering from his second concussion before turning 18, he's sitting on the sidelines and staying home from school. He has been out of athletics and on a modified school schedule since the head injury he sustained last December.
"You want to do something but you want it to get better, and the best way to make it better is by doing nothing," Isaac says. "It's kind of weird...almost like an oxymoron."
Isaac isn't alone; in fact, he's part of a concerning, growing trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of emergency room visits by children and teens for traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, has increased by 60 percent over the past decade.
Concussion awareness has reached a fever pitch over the past few years, with a significant amount of attention coming from a series of violent hits to the head in the National Football League and the National Hockey League. Each of those leagues, in addition to legions of other sports organizations at all levels, are now increasing the attention they pay to concussions.
A lot of the concern, though, is being directed toward youth sports, since doctors say that there's a significant difference between when a child and an adult suffers a blow to the head.
"We find that adolescents take longer to recover than adults," Dr. Gerard Gioia, who has treated Isaac, says. "We thing part of that reason is because the brain does not tolerate that force quite as well."
A concussion is sustained when a sudden blow to the head causes the brain to shake or jar inside the skull. The most commonly used way to measure the severity of a concussion puts an injury on a scale of 1 to 3, with Grade 3 being the most severe.
Why are they more severe for kids?
But for children and teens, doctors say that their necks aren't strong enough to stabilize the head, making it even easier for the brain to move back and forth.
As a result, more kids are sitting out of youth sports and are being kept out of the classroom, despite in many cases, there being no physical scars or outward signs of an injury. Experts say that rest is one of the most crucial parts of a person's concussion recovery.
However, Isaac's parents are surprised that it has taken so long for their son to bounce back this time.
"Hockey is optional, so I'm not worried about the sports aspect of it," Isaac's mother, Cheryl Levine, says. "I'm worried about his brain healing 100 percent."
The main danger of rushing back from any injury, especially a concussion, is re-injury. In the case of a head injury, though, permanent damage or even death make the concussion healing process that much more protracted.
"Your brain is your future," Dr. Gioia says. "That is what is going to take you on through life.
"If you injure that brain, you're now threatening that future."
The concussion app
To assist in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions in both adults and adolescents, Dr. Gioia has developed an iPad app to help parents and coaches pinpoint if an injured player has sustained a concussion.
The app guides the doctor and the patient through a series of questions and tests, and at the end, the program is able to tell whether or not the person may have a concussion. In some cases, it even can recommend whether more urgent treatment is necessary.
As for Isaac, he's taking it easy and letting his brain heal, and he hopes to be back in the game soon.
"I know we're on the right track," Cheryl says. "Our guy is coming back."
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