Winter sports such as snowboarding and skiing can be fun and thrilling, but they also can cause traumatic brain injuries. January is known as National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, and what better time to talk about the incidences of traumatic brain injuries during the winter month, as well as provide tips for preventing it.
A concussion is one type of traumatic brain injury. Concussions occur from a bump or blow to the body which causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth, changing the way the brain normally works. Concussions are serious. Most children with a concussion will recover quickly, but for some, concussion signs and symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer. Concussions are more of a concern in children and adolescents since the concussion can have a more serious affect on the developing brain. Approximately 75,000 children in the United States each year are treated in the hospital for traumatic brain injuries including concussions, and approximately 6,750 of those head occur during participation in a winter sport such as skiing or snowboarding.
Helmet laws and suggestions
In 2011, New Jersey became the first state to require those under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when skiing or snowboarding. Currently there is not a mandated helmet law for children snowboarding or skiing in Massachusetts, but it is a good idea for parents to require their active children to wear one when participating in winter activities that could cause a serious head injury should they fall or crash.
The National Ski Area Association highly recommends that skiers and snowboarders obey the snow slopes safety rules as well as wearing a helmet to prevent head injuries. Children, especially adolescents, should be educated that wearing a helmet doesn’t give them permission to ski or snowboard faster or recklessly.
Children and parents can find information more regarding snow slope safety and the use of helmets for skiing and snowboarding on lidsonkids.org. There is also an interactive video game teaching kids snow slope safety on this website.
Purchasing a helmet
Ask an experienced ski shop associate to assist you in obtaining a helmet for your child and confirm a proper fit. If a helmet doesn’t fit properly, it may not protect your child’s head if an accident occurs. If you don’t want to invest in a helmet for winter sports, most ski resorts also have helmets that you can rent, but always have a ski shop associate ensure a proper fit. It is also important to replace your helmet after a serious crash. Some helmets are built to only withstand a single impact, while others can withstand more than one-depending on the severity.
It is also suggested that beginners take a snowboarding and/or skiing classes at area ski resorts since beginner skiers and snowboarders are more prone to injuries than more experienced skiers or snowboarders.
Should a fall occur
It is important that parents know the signs and symptoms of concussion if a serious fall should occur during a winter sport so they can seek medical care when signs and symptoms of a concussion are present. A child should be taken to the emergency room immediately if he/she presents with any of the following dangerous signs after a bump or blow to the head:
- Drowsiness or inability to be awakened
- One pupil is larger than the other
- A headache that gets worse and does not go away
- Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Cannot recognize people or places
- Confusion, restlessness, or agitation
- Unusual behavior
Some children may not experience or report symptoms until hours or days after the head injury. Signs and symptoms of a concussion include headache, irritability, mood changes, vomiting, changes in vision and hearing, and difficulty following directions. If your child is experiencing any of these concussion signs and symptoms, call your primary care provider immediately.
If your child does get diagnosed with a concussion make sure that you follow the prescribed medical treatment and restrictions. Another blow to the head when the initial concussion is healing may result in longer lasting symptoms or more-permanent brain damage.
Be well and be safe this winter!