The first few snowflakes have started to fall, and winter sports enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting that first run on the ski slopes. Ice hockey is already in full swing — exhausted hockey parents are waking up in the frigid pre-dawn hours to drive their future NHL players to games or practices.
As a hockey mom and a skier, I love winter sports, but as a concussion specialist and pediatric emergency physician, I recognize the risks involved.
While there is no way to completely prevent accidents on the slope or the ice, recognizing a head injury and having appropriate equipment are two ways to improve your outcome.
Head injuries can be simplistically classified as mild traumatic brain injury or more serious traumatic brain injury. Concussion is considered a mild traumatic brain injury since there is no visible structural damage to the brain with a concussion. This does not detract from the seriousness of concussions.
More serious traumatic brain injuries can be associated with skull fractures, bleeding or bruising to the brain. Red flags to look for with any head injury include:
Any of these signs should prompt a 911 call.
Concussions can also be associated with headaches, dizziness, nausea, sometimes vomiting, and disorientation and balance issues. So it can be challenging to decide if you’re concussed or something more serious is going on.
Younger children may present with concussion symptoms the next morning. So, if your child has sustained a head injury and is complaining of a headache the next day, I would have them evaluated. With any head injury, it’s a good idea to be examined by a medical provider.
If there is any suspicion of concussion, I would stay off the slopes or ice until you’re cleared by a provider who is well versed in concussion management.
Helmets are incredibly important for the prevention of more serious traumatic brain injury. And even though they don’t prevent concussion, helmets should be worn by everyone when playing hockey or skiing.
When buying a helmet it’s important to buy one that fits properly. CDC guidelines for purchasing ski helmets include:
Hockey helmet guidelines are similar. Guidelines can also be found on the CDC website.
Most importantly, have fun and stay safe this winter season!
Dr. Audrey Paul, MD PhD is the founder of Advanced Concussion Solutions LLC in Westport, Connecticut and Garden City, New York. She is the author of “Concussion — Your Game Plan for Recovery.” She is also assistant professor in pediatric emergency medicine at the NYU Long Island School of Medicine. If you have questions or comments, you can reach her at email@example.com.