CHST urges caution with head injuries

Special to The OBSERVER

The fall sports season is coming into full swing, and the Southern Tier Child Health and Safety Team (CHST) is urging parents, coaches and school administrators to monitor young athletes for signs of concussion.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least one player suffers at least a mild concussion in almost every organized football game. There are roughly 67,000 concussions diagnosed as a result of playing high school football in the United States each year. A study by The New York Times indicated at least 50 youth and adolescent football players have died or sustained permanent disablement since 1997.

While concussions are most commonly associated with hard-hitting, brain-jarring contact sports like football, they’re also possible — and even common — in other sports like soccer where rough physical contact can be less prevalent. Five percent of all soccer players sustain a brain injury as a direct result of playing, most often from heading the ball, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute.

“As our kids lace up their spikes and snap on their helmets, let’s keep their safety in mind with some common sense and vigilance,” says Donna Kahm, President and CEO of Southern Tier Health Care System, Inc. (STHCS), which administers the CHST program. “If they’re acting hazy and confused, or even if they aren’t yet showing any symptoms after taking a blow to the head, they don’t belong anywhere near an athletic field or court. When in doubt, take them out. Get them to a doctor.”

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a blunt or jarring force acting on the head. It can cause brain swelling and bleeding in addition to severe short and long-term effects. Every year in New York, some 4,000 children and adolescents under 19 are treated at hospitals for sports-related traumatic brain injuries, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).

“There’s no such thing as a concussion that isn’t serious,” Kahm says. “Even a TBI from a seemingly light blow can cause chronic headaches and the deterioration of memory, cognitive skills and motor function, if left untreated.”

To protect children from further injury, the Southern Tier Child Health and Safety Team urges parents and coaches to know the common signs of a concussion and remove the child from play if they are displaying any of the following symptoms: Headache or a feeling of pressure, feeling dazed or stunned, confusion, nausea or vomiting, double or blurred vision, ringing in the ears, loss of balance, changes in behavior or personality, delayed responses, slurred speech, sensitivity to light or noise, loss of consciousness, sleep disturbances.

Commonly, an athlete forgetting plays or assignments is a tell-tale sign of a concussion before more serious symptoms may become apparent. Sometimes the symptoms are subtle and may not be immediately obvious. They may persist for days, weeks, months or longer.

“Many times the athlete will have amnesia and won’t recall the event that caused the injury,” Kahm says.

Experts urge coaches to remove them from play immediately if an athlete displays any concussion symptoms. Have the child evaluated by a medical professional immediately and notify the parents/caregivers. The child must be kept out of play until no longer displaying concussion symptoms for at least 24 hours and has been cleared to play by a licensed medical professional, according to DOH.

Coaches and school administrators can help by being prepared and knowledgeable about concussions. They should be able to identify symptoms and facilitate early treatment before medical help arrives. Following an injury, they should give the parents/caregivers a fact sheet about concussions, indicating proper treatment and safety precautions to be taken in the days and weeks following the injury.

Athletes must wear properly fitting helmets, mouthguards and other headgear that are in good condition.

A brain healing from a concussion is more likely to sustain subsequent TBIs. A series of concussions can worsen the symptoms and potentially create more long-term damaging and debilitating medical conditions. The most serious of these is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that spreads slowly and kills brain cells, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Athletes with CTE sometimes don’t show signs of the disease until later in life. These symptoms often include behavioral changes, loss of impulse control, aggression, depression and paranoia. The worst cases can result in death.

Victims of CTE also have an increased risk for suicide.

For more information about the Child Health and Safety Team and links to additional resources, please visit and click on CHST. You can also call Southern Tier Health Care System, Inc. at (716) 372-0614.