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Youth Football and Concussion Risk: Should You Say No?

Football season has arrived, and hockey season is nearly here, too -- not to mention basketball and soccer. If your child is one of the millions who begs to play a contact sport each fall, you may find yourself hesitating over concerns about concussion risk. If so, you're not alone. One third of parents say they won't let their kids play football due to the potential for brain injury, as research from the Barrow Neurological Institute reports.

As a parent, you want to keep your children safe, but you don't want to unnecessarily limit their opportunities to compete in sports. So is it safe for your child to play youth football or hockey? What about high school athletics in general? Is the competition worth the risk?

Repeated brain trauma can lead to cognitive issues later in life, so it's important to keep these concerns in mind. How can you balance your child's well-being with their desire to play contact sports? You'll have to understand your child's concussion risk and learn what you can do to reduce it.

Spotting a Concussion

Concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury. Specifically, it's an injury to the brain that occurs when delicate brain tissue strikes the inside of the skull -- for instance, when the head hits the ground abruptly during a football tackle.

Any time your child experiences a blow to the head during sports, you should watch out for the signs and symptoms of concussion. These may develop right away, or they may not appear for weeks. Some of the most common indicators of concussion include:

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Inability to follow a simple sequence of instructions -- for example, rinse the dishes, then place them in the dishwasher, then add detergent.
  • Sensitivity to light.

Your child also could exhibit certain behavioral symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety.
  • Sadness.
  • Unusual mood changes.

It's important to note that loss of consciousness usually is not a sign of concussion.

How to Reduce Concussion Risk

Luckily, there are plenty of steps you and your child can take to protect against brain injury. Some of the best techniques for preventing concussions include:

  • Wearing a well-made helmet that fits properly.
  • Learning how to tackle safely.
  • Avoiding using the helmet as a point of contact with other athletes.
  • Playing by the rules -- no illegal blocks or tackles.

If your child does experience a concussion, don't panic -- most people recover without any long-term consequences. However, if your child experiences repeated head trauma, you should consult a neurologist to help you determine whether or not your child should continue playing contact sports. It may be disappointing for your budding athlete to consider switching sports, but brain health is far more important in the long term.

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