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We finally have guidelines for managing kids’ concussions

It’s a public health problem

England v India: Specsavers 4th Test - Day Two Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created guidelines for managing children who have had concussions.

Head injuries have received a lot of attention because repeated blunt impacts — like the type football players experience — have been linked to problems like memory loss, dementia, and depression later in life. But most of this interest has focused on adults who already have their own guidelines for diagnosis and treatment. These new guidelines, published today in JAMA Pediatrics, are the first that focus on children. The set of 19 recommendations (available in the paper above) cover diagnosis and treatment, including suggestions for when children should return to school.

Concussions in children is a public health problem: nearly 3 million kids made emergency visits between 2005 and 2009. Most children who have mild brain injuries recover within six weeks, according to lead author Matthew J. Breiding, a scientist who leads the Traumatic Brain Injury Team for the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. A brain injury of any type has the potential to disrupt how a child develops. For some kids who get concussions, especially those who are injured at a young age, “the significance of problems might not be realized until years after the injury.”

The hope is that these guidelines will lead to better treatment for kids. Still, we need more research to truly understand the scope of the issue, Breiding tells The Verge. We know a lot about which factors — like the nature of the injury or family characteristics — predict how long it’ll take the child to recover, but there’s still a lot we need to learn about treatments that might help.