Diagnose

When should I call a doctor?

If you suspect your child has a concussion, talk to your child's doctor. All head injuries should be taken seriously. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is an injury to the brain. It can be caused by a blow or bump to or around the head. This causes the brain to move inside the skull which can change how the brain works or processes information.

It is important to remember:

  • A concussion usually does not result in loss of consciousness. Only about 10 percent of concussions involve a loss of consciousness. 
  • Headache is the most common symptom, but you do not have to have a headache to have a concussion. 
  • Since a concussion does not involve a structural injury to the brain, imaging such as a CT scan or MRI will look normal.
  • Healing occurs over time and not right away.

How to identify a concussion

Your child's doctor will help determine if he has a concussion. Evaluations for suspected concussions may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination performed by a doctor
  • Review of post-concussion ImPACT evaluation scores

Learn more about ImPACT evaluations

Recognize the signs of a concussion


Symptoms of a concussion

Your child may not have symptoms until a few days after the injury. A symptom is what is reported by the child. Your child may report one or more of these symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Clumsy movement or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Tiredness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vision problems
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
  • Numbness or tingling anywhere on the body
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking
  • Mentally foggy, cannot think clearly or remember things
  • Slurred speech or other changes in speech
  • Irritable or more fussy than usual
  • Acts differently than normal - does not play, acts fussy or seems confused
  • More emotional, perhaps very sad or nervous
  • Different sleeping patterns 

New or worsening symptoms

You should watch your child very carefully in the first one to two days after a concussion. Call your child's doctor immediately, go to emergency room or call 911 if your child has any new symptoms or if symptoms get worse, such as:

  • Headaches that get worse
  • Clear drainage from the nose or ear
  • Scalp swelling that gets bigger
  • A seizure
  • Neck pain
  • Is hard to wake up
  • Vomits more than once
  • Acts differently than usual, such as if he does not play, acts fussy or seems confused
  • Cannot think clearly or remember things
  • Has weakness in the arms or legs or does not move them as usual
  • Cannot recognize people or places
  • Slurred speech
  • Passes out

Take Action

Steps to get help

It's important to get your child evaluated if you suspect a concussion. If your child is participating in a sport at the time of injury, take him out of the game or practice. Your child should avoid activities that put him at risk for another head injury soon after the first one. A child should recover and be completely symptom-free at rest and with physical exertion before returning to sports or other activities. Before a youth athlete can return to play, he must be cleared by a healthcare provider trained in the management of concussions.

In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.

1. Contact your pediatrician or visit a Children's Urgent Care Center or Emergency Department.

2. Get your non-urgent questions answered.

  • If a doctor has diagnosed your child with a concussion and you still have questions about his or her treatment contact our concussion nurse. Call 404-785-KIDS (5437), select option 3 and ask for the concussion nurse or call 1-800-785-CHOA.
  • The concussion nurse is available 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. If you call after 3 p.m. or on weekends or holidays, leave a message and the nurse will return your call the next business day.

3. Download our teaching sheet on concussions.


NOTE: Any documents available for download on this webpage (the “Concussion Program Materials”) are owned by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Inc. By downloading, saving, or copying any of the documents on this webpage, CHOA provides you a fully-paid, nontransferable, nonexclusive, personal right and license to use the selected Concussion Program Materials solely for the purposes listed below. Read more about the terms of agreement.


Our Unique Approach

Concussion Program

Our Emergency Departments treat more pediatric patients with concussions than any other hospital in the state.* We have an entire team of pediatric specialists who understand how to care for concussions and can work with your child’s doctor to create a treatment plan just for him. Our concussion resources are endorsed by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Comprehensive care

Several teams at Children's work together to treat concussion patients. This multidisciplinary approach helps make our program unique. Services include:

Meet the team

Treat

Each concussion is unique. Symptoms and recovery time are different for each child or teen.It's important to remember that rest for the brain and body is important when you are recovering from a concussion. Rest, both cognitive (for the brain) and physical (for the body), is the best treatment.

Your child’s doctor may keep your child out of sports, school or other activities. Depending on how severe the concussion is, it can take days, weeks or months for your child's brain to totally heal.

Recovery guidelines

Here are some guidelines for helping your child recover from a concussion:

  • Limit physical activities like play. Don’t allow your child to return to gym class or sports until your doctor says it’s OK.
  • Don’t allow too many visitors. Keep visits short.
  • Keep surroundings calm and quiet.
  • Be sure to keep your child’s doctor appointments, even if he or she is feeling better.
  • Be patient. A concussion may temporarily make it hard for your child to focus, remember things or complete tasks.
  • Limit thinking activities to easy books and simple arts and crafts projects. Limit screen activities (TV, video games, computers and cell phones) to no more than two hours a day for no longer than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Have your child stop and rest any time symptoms get worse.

Serious problems after a concussion are rare, but can occur. That’s why a medical doctor should always be involved in a child’s care after a concussion.

Watch for new or worsening symptoms

You should watch your child very carefully in the first one to two days after a concussion. Call your child's doctor IMMEDIATELY, go to emergency room or call 911 if your child has any new symptoms or if symptoms get worse, such as:

  • Headaches that get worse
  • Clear drainage from the nose or ear
  • Scalp swelling that gets bigger
  • A seizure
  • Neck pain
  • Is hard to wake up
  • Vomits more than once
  • Acts differently than usual, such as if he does not play, acts fussy or seems confused
  • Cannot think clearly or remember things
  • Has weakness in the arms or legs or does not move them as usual
  • Cannot recognize people or places
  • Slurred speech
  • Passes out

Pain medications

  • Ask your doctor before giving your child any pain medicines
  • Don't give your child any medicines that can cause sleepiness - like cold medicines or medicines for itching - until you check with your doctor

Returning to school

After a concussion, your child should stay home and rest until the doctor tells you he or she can return to school. Most children will need to miss one to two days of school. Talk to the school nurse before your child returns. The nurse can help support your child’s slow return back to school work.

Download our Return to School and Activities Guideline

Returning to sports

Your child must stop playing all sports and rest until he has no concussion symptoms. He should return to normal school work and studies before returning to game play. Wait until your doctor says it’s OK for your child to resume sports or PE. When this occurs, your child should take it slow and stop if any symptoms return. If your child has a second concussion before recovering from the first, there can be serious consequences.

Download our workout diary to track the return-to-play (en Español)

Terms of agreement:

By downloading, saving, or copying any of the documents on this webpage, CHOA provides you a fully-paid, nontransferable, nonexclusive, personal right and license to use the selected Concussion Program Materials solely for the following purposes:

(i) if you are accessing the materials as a parent, you may use the Concussion Program Materials for your personal, non-commercial use to educate yourself and your family on concussion prevention and treatment for a child;
(ii) if you are accessing the materials as an athletics coach or on behalf of a school organization, you may use the Concussion Program Materials to promote concussion safety to your staff, students and athletes and to create appropriate concussion management procedures; and/or
(iii) if you are a healthcare provider, you may use the Concussion Program Materials for your personal, professional development to enhance your medical knowledge in the field of concussions. The Concussion Program Materials are not to be used as definitive diagnostic tools with any specific patient and your independent medical judgment should be used to treat any patient. 

You may not copy, modify, adapt, reverse engineer or create derivative works of the Concussion Program Materials or remove any copyright or other proprietary rights notices therefrom.

Prevent

Concussions are not always avoidable, but here are some tips that can help keep your child safe. Prevention tips sourced using cdc.gov and safekids.org.

Babies and toddlers

  • Make sure your child rides in an approved child safety seat or booster seat in the car. Learn more about Georgia's booster seat law.
  • Don't allow other children to carry your baby.
  • Don’t leave your baby on a bed or couch.
  • Don't use baby walkers that have wheels since these are prone to tipping.
  • Always use safety straps on changing tables and in grocery carts and high chairs.
  • Secure large pieces of furniture such as bookshelves and TVs to the floor or wall to prevent them from tipping over on your child.
  • Keep windows and screens locked, or install safety guards to keep your child from falling out of them.
  • Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.

Helmet safety

Wear a helmet when:

  • Riding a bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, scooter or all-terrain vehicle
  • Playing a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey or boxing
  • Using in-line skates or riding a skateboard
  • Batting and running bases in baseball or softball
  • Riding a horse
  • Skiing or snowboarding

Sport safety

  • Wear the right protective equipment for the activity such as helmets, padding, shin guards, and eye and mouth guards
  • Protective equipment should fit properly, be well maintained and worn consistently and correctly
  • Use good sportsmanship at all times
  • Follow the coach's rules

Safety in living and playing areas

  • Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows
  • Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around
  • Make sure the surface on your child's playground is made of shock-absorbing material, such as hardwood mulch or sand