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Published on September 16, 2014

When in Doubt, Sit Them Out

09.16.14Football players

When it comes to head injuries, safety should be the first priority for adolescent athletes.

Whether you’re in the stands cheering on the football team or driving your child to practice, fall sports can become an integral part of your family’s life. Unfortunately, sports come with the risk of injury, and unlike more obvious injuries, many concussions suffered in middle and high school sports go unreported.

Adolescents may keep symptoms to themselves for fear of losing playing time or being seen as weak by their peers, but returning to play before an injury is healed puts the athlete at more risk for a second concussion. The effects of that second impact can be catastrophic.

Second impact syndrome (SIS) is a rapid swelling of the brain that occurs when an athlete suffers a second concussion before the first is healed. It is seen most often in adolescents due to ongoing brain development. In many instances, neither the first concussion nor the second impact has to be severe for SIS to occur.

Ask an Expert

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines recommend that athletes who incur head injuries be cleared by a medical professional before they are allowed to return to competition. Though athletes may argue that they feel fine and ask to return to the game, no one with a head injury should be allowed to return to play on the same day. It is important to remember that the younger an athlete is, the longer the healing process takes and treatment should be approached accordingly.

Heading to the Danger Zone

A major roadblock in diagnosing and properly treating sports-related concussions is that many adolescent athletes don’t recognize the risks or symptoms associated with the injury. Keep a close eye on athletes who have received a hit to the head and be sure to call 911 or head to the emergency room if they:

  • Are drowsy or cannot be woken
  • Cannot recognize people or places, or become increasingly confused, restless or agitated
  • Complain of or display weakness, numbness, slurred speech or decreased coordination
  • Experience vomiting, nausea or convulsions/seizures
  • Have a headache that gets worse
  • Have one pupil that appears larger than the other
  • Lose consciousness. Any loss of consciousness, however brief, should be taken seriously.


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