Dr. Sydney Piercey, Neurologist at Ogden Clinic, talks about the dangers of concussions in sports.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that results from a forceful blow to the head. Concussions are common in car accidents and high-impact sports like football, hockey, and snowboarding. It is possible to suffer a concussion without bleeding, bruising, or losing consciousness. It’s important to understand the symptoms and dangers of concussions in order to minimize potential damage to the brain.
What causes a concussion?
Your brain is a soft organ that’s surrounded by fluid. This fluid cushions your brain from minor bumps and jolts. However, if a collision is powerful enough, it can cause your brain to slam against the inside of your skull, causing injury. This injury affects brain function, usually for a short time, resulting in signs and symptoms of a concussion.
What are the symptoms of concussion?
The most common symptoms of concussion include:
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Amnesia surrounding the moment of collision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Headache that gets worse over time
- Slurred speech
- Delayed response to questions
What should I do if I think I’ve suffered a concussion?
If you suffered a concussion while playing a sport, do not, under any circumstance, go back into the game. Avoid physical activity as much as possible, and try to see a doctor within 24 hours.
Is it safe to fall asleep after sustaining a concussion?
It was once thought that a person with a concussion should not be allowed to sleep because they might slip into a coma. We now understand that’s not the case. There is no danger in sleeping, and no need to make a patient with a concussion stay awake.
What can be done to prevent concussions?
You can never fully negate all chances of suffering a concussion, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk:
- Always wear a seatbelt when you drive or ride in a car
- Never drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Always wear a helmet while riding a bike or motorcycle
Recreational football starts at seven years old in Utah. Do you believe seven-year-olds should be playing tackle football?
The statistics show that seven-year-olds probably should not be playing tackle football. Particularly unique to youth football is the fact that the size of the players can vary so drastically. It’s not uncommon for a 50-pound child to be hit or tackled by a 90-pound child, for example. That disparity in size can greatly increase the risk of concussion for the smaller child.
I certainly don’t judge parents who allow their children to play football at that age. I know that coaches are taking more and more care to prevent concussions. I know that tackling other players is no longer allowed in practice, for example, and that’s certainly a step in the right direction in regards to concussion safety. Many coaches will even stand behind a tackling dummy in practice and hold a certain number of fingers up. After a player makes the tackle, the coach will ask the player how many fingers the coach was holding up. In theory, this teaches the player to keep his head up away from the impact of the tackle in an effort to minimize the risk of suffering a concussion.
Still, there’s nothing coaches or players or even helmet manufacturers can do to fully eliminate the threat of concussions in football.
What is CTE?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that has been associated with repetitive impacts to the head, regardless of whether those impacts cause concussions or not. CTE can cause a myriad of negative symptoms including depression, dementia, and behavioral and personality changes. One recent study found that 110 of 111 (99%) of former NFL players had suffered from CTE. Conversely, 3 of 14 (21%) of players who stopped playing football after high school had suffered from CTE. The fact is, the longer someone plays football, the more likely that person is to develop CTE.
Ultimately, I view football much the same way that people used to view smoking. People used to believe they weren’t harming their bodies if they only smoked one cigarette a day, or if they smoked filtered cigarettes. Of course, now we know that any amount of smoking is tremendously unhealthy, no matter how robust the cigarette filter might be.
The same is true for football and other high-impact sports. If you want to avoid CTE, I recommend you not play high-impact sports at all. It’s as simple as that.