A Heads-Up on Concussion

According to the Sports Concussion Institute, a concussion occurs as a result of a direct blow to the head or a whiplash effect.  It is most often defined as a head injury with a temporary loss of brain activity or function which may cause a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms.  Because these symptoms are often very subtle, they may not be recognizable immediately following a blow.  Concussions almost always resolve within a few weeks, although symptoms may persist or cause other complications at a later time.

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.7 million people experience a concussion every year.  Infants and youngsters ages 0 to 4 and teens and young adults ages 15 to 19 are at highest risk for concussion.

Symptoms of concussion may include headaches, nausea, difficulty with concentration, confusion, irritability, loss of short-term memory, appetite loss, blurred vision, slurred speech, changes in taste and smell, trouble sleeping, and decreased energy levels.

Figures from the Sports Concussion Institute estimate that approximately 53 percent of high school athletes have suffered a concussion and 36 percent of college athletes have had multiple concussions.  These concussions are considered traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), causing the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.  This sudden movement may cause the brain to twist in the skull, causing brain cells to become damaged and changing the brain chemically.

Most concussions are not life-threatening, but the effects that they create can be serious.  Teens and children who receive blows to the head caused by sports injuries, car accidents, falls, or being struck on the head may say that they just “don’t feel right” after the traumatic event.  There are certain signs or symptoms however that would warrant more extensive examination.  These include the following:

  • Appearing stunned or dazed after the inciting event
  • Moving very slowly or awkwardly
  • Losing consciousness (even for a short period of time)
  • Is not able to recall events prior to or after the fall or blow
  • Speaks and answers questions slowly
  • Exhibits changes in behavior, mood, or personality
  • Vomiting or feeling of nausea
  • Dizziness or problems with balance
  • Feeling groggy or sluggish
  • Are bothered by noise or light
  • Memory problems or confusion
  • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
Some of these symptoms may not show up for hours or even days after the trauma. Teens and children should always be seen by healthcare providers, especially if symptoms worsen or persist. Often the provider will order a CT scan of the brain to look for signs of more serious injury to the brain. They may perform neuropsychological or neurocognitive tests to assess memory skills, concentration, and problem-solving abilities.   All of these types of tests will help the healthcare provider assess the effects of the concussion.
Prevention for concussions includes wearing seat belts; helmets for certain sports activities including biking, in-line skating, motorcycle riding, horseback riding, football; and avoiding hits to the head. Helmets should be well maintained and age-appropriate. Even when worn correctly and consistently however helmets are not concussion-proof and provide only a limited amount of protection.

Today’s Children Eat Too Much Salt

A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 9 out of 10 American children eat more salt than they should. We have long known that hypertension (high blood pressure) in adults can be better controlled by limiting the intake of salt in our diets, so it comes as no surprise to many that kids are having the same problem.

The CDC released a report showing that 90% of kids in the U.S. between the ages of 6 and 18 are eating too much salt which could lead to heart disease and hypertension as adults. Five percent of these children already have blood pressure that is higher than normal.

What Can Parents Do to Slow or Prevent this Alarming Trend? The quickest way to lower sodium consumption in children is to control the amount of processed foods they take in daily. This is the biggest source of hidden salt. Read the labels on boxes and packages. Children should eat less than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. If you see that one serving of cereal contains over 700 mg of sodium, you may want to substitute another kind with less. Comparing labels can save up to 70% of the unhealthy ingestion of salt.

Avoiding fast food restaurants can also help to lower salt intake. It is harder to compare the amounts of sodium in these products, but it is usually much higher than foods prepared at home, where you know exactly how much salt has been added. Cooking from scratch controls what goes into a food. Try using salt-free seasonings. Kids can seldom tell the difference. Remove the salt shaker from the table or substitute another seasoning such as fresh garlic.

Serve more natural fruits and vegetables for meals and snacks. They tend to fill children up and often satisfy and eliminate the need for so much salt.

What Foods Contain the Most Salt?  Ten foods that kids eat most often contain 43 percent of most of the salt they consume including chicken nuggets, pizza, cheese, pasta dishes, cold cuts and cured meats, packaged snacks, sandwiches, breads, and soups.

Not only do these foods affect children’s health at the present, but set them up for unhealthy future dietary habits. The preferred taste for salt begins when children are exposed to it at an early age, and they will gravitate towards it when they are adults.

Schools need to be aware of this overconsumption of salt and act accordingly by purchasing foods for lunch programs that have reduced amounts of sodium and also by putting snack items in vending machines that have alternatives to those containing high amounts of salt.