With the rise in concussions among children and teens, attention is drawn to the effects these injuries have on developing brains. Emergency room visits for concussions occurring in children and teen’s team sports have risen dramatically since the late 1990’s.

The estimated number of adolescents 14 to 19 years old seen in emergency rooms for concussions rose from approximately 7,000 in 1997 to nearly 23,000 in 2007. Among children in the 8 to 13 year old age range, emergency room visits increased from an estimated 3,800 in 1997 to 7,800 in 2007.

Recent studies also indicate that a teenager who suffers a concussion is more sensitive than either adults or younger children are to its aftereffects.

“Contrary to the belief by some parents and coaches that children can play through a concussion because their brains are more resilient, we find that children are more vulnerable to the effects of a brain injury than adults,” said lead researcher Dave Ellemberg, a neuropsychologist at the University of Montreal.

And, teenagers suffer greater symptoms than either children or adults, he added.

Concussions can affect short-term memory in adolescents, and those effects can last for six months or longer. Adolescent brains, more specifically the frontal lobe areas of the brain which are affected most by concussion, are still growing in spurts, and are therefore more fragile and sensitive to injury.

Among teens that had suffered concussions, problems with short-term working memory and ability to sustain attention and focus were affected for six months to one year after the injury.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these injuries are limited solely to boys. The number of girls suffering from concussions in soccer, for example, accounts for the second largest amount of all concussions reported by young athletes, though football still tops the list.

“People who think of concussions as only being present mostly in guys and mostly in the sport of football are just plain wrong,” said Dr. Bob Cantu, Chairman of the Surgery Division and the Director of Sports Medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. “Soccer is right at the top of the list for girls.”

Here are some signs of concussion to watch out for:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe headache or obvious trauma
  • Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
  • Visual changes (blurred vision) and/or sensitivity to light
  • Lack of balance or dizziness
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Feeling dazed or lightheaded
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason