More children with concussions and other traumatic brain injuries went to emergency departments in the U.S. in the past decade, an increase researchers believe was driven by greater awareness among parents and coaches.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that emergency department visits for sports-and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including concussions, among children and adolescents increased by 60 per cent.
The ER visits rose from 153,375 in 2001 to 248,418 in 2009, according to the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer were the main sports involved.
Growing awareness among parents, coaches and others about the need for those with a suspected TBI to be seen by a health-care professional is thought to be driving the increase in emergency department visits among children and teens, said study author Dr. Linda Degutis, director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
"It's a good increase, if that makes any sense," agreed Steve Marshall, interim director of the University of North Carolina's Injury Prevention and Research Center.
"These injuries were always there. It's not that there are more injuries now. It's just that now people are getting treatment that they weren't getting before," said Marshall, who was not involved in the new research.
The number of injuries varied by age group and gender:
- 71 per cent of all visits were among males.
- 70.5 per cent of visits were among persons aged 10 to 19 years.
- Children from birth to nine years commonly injured themselves on the playground or while bicycling.
Males most often were injured playing football or bicycling, whereas for females, injuries happened most often while playing soccer, basketball or bicycling, the researchers found.
The study based on a survey of 66 hospital emergency departments was designed to be nationally representative.
Traumatic brain injuries include concussions as well as skull fractures and bleeding in the brain.
Several factors seem to be driving the increased awareness of concussions.
The CDC's "Head's Up" concussion awareness campaign has expanded from an initial focus on doctors to coaches and school officials.
In 2011, bills were introduced in at least 39 states that were aimed at better management of traumatic brain injuries, and most targeted sports-related concussions in youths, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York state, nearly all of the children who come in with concussions are brought in by their parents. Such visits have been increasing, and many parents seem to have become aware of the danger of concussions by reports on television, said Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, an emergency physician there.
"I think the TV specials on this have them spooked," he said.