Concussion Signs and Symptoms in Children and Teens

doctor holding up fingers in front of injured young girl holding ice pack on her head
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Concussions are a common injury for children and teens. As explained by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to shake. The shaking can cause the brain to not work normally and can result in serious side effects."

If your child or teen has received a blow to the head or body or is demonstrating any of the symptoms below, get them checked out by a doctor right away. It is especially important to receive a proper evaluation and follow treatment orders from medical professionals for the best—and shortest—recovery outcome.

Because concussions are a traumatic brain injury, failure to properly treat a concussion has the potential for long-term negative outcomes.

Concussion Signs and Symptoms in Youth

There are four main categories of concussion symptoms. Remember that loss of consciousness is not a telltale sign of concussion; people with concussion only lose consciousness about 10% of the time. Discuss any symptoms with your child's doctor.

Physical Symptoms

  • Headache: An especially common symptom throughout the recovery period.
  • Nausea: Can range in severity from feeling a little nauseated to actual vomiting.
  • Balance problems: May appear as increased clumsiness, dizziness, or just an off-kilter feeling.
  • Slowed reaction time: A lag in between any sort of stimulus and your child's response to it.
  • Dizziness: Can range from mild to severe.
  • Light or noise sensitivity: Can be triggered by bright or even normal lighting, and loud noise or background noise. 
  • Blurred vision: Child may say that things look "fuzzy."

Sleep Symptoms

  • Change in amount: Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Insomnia: Trouble falling asleep
  • Fatigue: Feeling drowsy when not asleep

Thinking/Remembering Symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Feeling “mentally foggy”
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Confusion (a serious symptom that requires immediate attention)

Mood Symptoms

A great deal of emotional regulation happens in different parts of the brain. This symptom may show up in your child as being irritable, sad, nervous depressed, or moody/more emotional than is usual for them.

When It's an Emergency

Call 911 if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Seizures (twitching or jerking movement of parts of the body; may look stiff)
  • Weakness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Difficulty arousing or inability to awaken
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloody or clear fluid from the nose or ears

Concussion Evaluation

If a child has any of the emergency symptoms listed above, immediately call 911 or take your child to an emergency room for an evaluation. If your child does not have any of the symptoms in that category, but you have any concern that they may have sustained a concussion, call the primary care pediatrician immediately. The doctor will want to see your child right away.

  • Don't delay. Go for an evaluation as soon as you are aware of an incident or any symptoms, or have any concerns about concussion. The earlier an evaluation is made, the earlier a proper treatment protocol can be put into place. Err on the side of caution and take a child or teen to be evaluated if you have any concerns about concussion
  • Gather information. Try to get as many details as possible about the incident: The exact location of where the head or body was hit, how many times, how fast, what exact time of day, whether or not your child lost consciousness, and any strange behavior immediately after the blow.
  • Don't panic. Keep in mind the first few hours after an injury may not reliably indicate how severe or longstanding a concussion will be. At the same time, note that some symptoms don't appear immediately after an injury.

Concussion Recovery

If the doctor finds that your child does indeed have a concussion, it is important that you follow through with the doctor's plan for your child to recover. You will want to work with your child's school and extracurricular activities to make sure your child can take the time needed to recover. You may also want to return to this list of symptoms throughout the recovery time to see if your child is experiencing a return or increase of concussion symptoms.

Return to Learn

Because the brain is the main organ used for learning, keep in touch with your child's school about the progress of your child's concussion recovery. Immediately after a concussion, your child's brain needs to rest. That may mean no school, homework, or screen time, per your doctor's advice.

Light cognitive activity can be reintroduced slowly if and when it does not cause symptoms to recur. Once your child can tolerate an hour of homework at home, they may be ready to return to school on a modified schedule.

Return to Play

Whether or not your child's concussion happened while playing sports, they need to limit physical activity as part of the rest and recovery process. Discuss your child's "return to play" plan with their doctor. As with cognitive activity, physical activity needs to be reintroduced slowly and carefully, while monitoring for any return of symptoms.

Concussion rest and recovery can take days or weeks. Taking the right steps is critical for your child's brain to be in the best possible shape for the rest of their life.

Risk for Future Concussions

Be aware that once your child has sustained a concussion, they are at higher risk for a second concussion. A lesser impact can cause a second concussion in a child (or adult) who has recently had one. And the consequences can be more severe, because they are cumulative. Making sure that your child makes a full recovery can help prevent future concussions.

Taking the time to rest and recover from a concussion ensures that your child will have the best possible outcome for their mind and body.  

A Word From Verywell

Most youth who follow their treatment plan will recover from their first concussion in a few weeks and have a positive outcome. Medical professionals will often be very firm in giving advice and orders when it comes to youth concussions. You will also notice that the handouts provided from your doctor and online articles repeat warnings about the importance of following protocols to heal a concussion.

Following the protocol and protecting your child from a second concussion will lead to the best and most positive outcome. By making yourself aware of concussion symptoms, what your child should and shouldn't do with a concussion, how to monitor the concussion process, and how to lower the risk of future concussions (such as by using the proper safety gear and making sure your child's sport has a concussion protocol in place), you are taking the steps necessary to support your child's healing.

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Article Sources
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  1. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Concussion.

  2. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Return to learn after a concussion.

  3. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Return to play after a concussion.

  4. Weill Cornell Medicine. Children and concussions.