Dr. Jonathan Phillips was in his residency near Pittsburgh when he was introduced to the realm of concussions and the kind of harm they can inflict.
The deficits they cause can affect much more than an athlete’s ability to get back onto the playing field, said Phillips, whose office is in the Wellness Plaza at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel. They can harm the athlete’s learning abilities and the impacts can spill over to family life, as parents have to shift their priorities to get proper treatment for their child.
Philips is sharing that and more in a seminar, “Rising Dangers of Concussion: What Coaches, Parents and Young Athletes Need to Know.” It takes place Oct. 22 beginning at 6 p.m.
Admission is free, and so is a meal that comes with it, but those wishing to attend must register in advance.
Phillips is certified in sports medicine and has provided care for many athletes. During his fellowship at the University of South Florida, he took care of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the USF Bulls, and even the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team when they were in town for Spring Training.
Now, he’s the team doctor for the Arena Football League team Tampa Bay Storm.
“The biggest thing that people don’t realize is that concussions account for about 1.6 (million) of the 3.8 million of traumatic or mild brain injury in the folks ages 15 to 24,” said Phillips, citing statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To combat that problem, it’s essential for coaches, parents and athletes to become more aware of the causes and symptoms of concussions, and the proper course of treatment.
Parents whose children don’t play heavy contact sports, such as football, may think their children aren’t at risk, Phillips said. But that isn’t true. Concussions can occur in athletes playing a wide range of sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball and volleyball.
The CDC has published educational materials to help coaches, parents and athletes learn prevention strategies and how to identify symptoms. Phillips will discuss prevention, symptoms and treatment of concussion at his seminar.
A concussion, the doctor said, “is a mechanical stress on the brain itself that causes it to move, or shift inside the head.”
That shifting causes a metabolic injury to the brain, Phillips said.
While concussions often result from a jolt or blow to the head, they can also be caused by a hit to another part of the body, such as a whiplash action, the doctor said.
Symptoms of a concussion can include loss of consciousness, headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, changes in behavior and sensitivity to noise or light.
Those symptoms may become evident on a playing field, on the sideline or in a locker room, Phillips said. Sometimes, however, the signs of a concussion show up later.
When a concussion is suspected, the next step is to seek medical care and then to receive medical clearance before returning to sport, the CDC says.
Phillips recommends seeing a doctor who is knowledgeable about concussions — to get the proper care as quickly as possible and to avoid unnecessary tests, which can be expensive and may delay appropriate treatment.
“Not everyone needs an MRI. Not everyone needs a CAT scan. Not everyone needs an EEG,” Phillips said, describing an electroencephalography exam.
One tool that’s helpful is an online baseline test of an athlete’s memory, reaction time, motor speed and so on, Phillips said.
“After they have a baseline test, if they were to get injured, it would be easy to see the comparison,” Phillips said, noting it’s just one of the tools that doctors use to evaluate a patient with a suspected concussion.
Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel provides these baseline tests for free to youth athletes, said Tracy Clouser, director of marketing for the hospital.
While people may think that dramatic, head-jolting hits cause the worst concussions, Phillips said that small, repeated injuries are generally more damaging.
“A lot of times those spectacular hits that you see where people get knocked out for one- or 15 seconds, and then they’re up — those folks recover fairly quickly as opposed to those with multiple hits,” he said.
That’s because the athletes suffering the smaller, repeated hits tend to shake it off and get back into the game. But they are usually injured again before the first damage has a chance to heal, Phillips said.
If a parent suspects his or her child has a concussion and they can’t get immediate medical care, the best course of treatment for the child is brain rest, Phillips said.
“You need as much energy as possible to go to that area of the brain to heal it,” he said. “So, no texting. No computers. No TV. No reading.”
They should have a medical professional check them out. Then, if they need continued treatment, they can seek a modified educational plan to help them heal, Phillips said.
For instance, they may need more time to complete homework assignments.
With concussions taking center stage in recent months, especially with the National Football League, there have been some fears that focusing so much attention on the problem will weaken sports. But no one is saying that athletes should be less competitive, Phillips said. They simply need to learn the proper techniques for the sport and to pay attention to their health.
“They can still be aggressive. They can still want to win. That’s part of sports,” Phillips said. “The key is safety for the kids.”
What: A seminar on the Rising Dangers of Concussion: What coaches, parents and young athletes need to know
When: Oct. 22, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (meal is provided)
Where: Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, Wellness Plaza
Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call (813) 929-5432 or visit, www.FHWesleyChapel.org/events
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides this information to help lower the risk of concussions and to treat suspected concussions.
To minimize risks for concussions:
• Follow the rules of safety and the rules of the sport.
• Be sure protective equipment fits properly and is well maintained.
• Wear a helmet to reduce the risk of serious brain injury or skull fracture, but be aware there are no concussion-proof helmets.
• Avoid hits to the head.
If you suspect you have a concussion:
• Don’t hide it. Report it. Trying to “tough it out” can worsen symptoms. Do not let anyone pressure you to continue playing if you suspect you have a concussion.
• Get checked out. Only a health care professional can tell you if you have a concussion and can tell you if it is safe for you to return to play.
If you suspect your child has a concussion:
• Seek medical attention right away.
• Keep your child out of play.
• Tell your child’s coach about any previous concussion.
If you suspect your player has a concussion:
• Remove the athlete from play.
• Inform the athlete’s guardians or parents.
• Make sure the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional.
(When reporting a suspected concussion, a coach should include this information: The cause of the injury; whether the athlete lost consciousness and if so, for how long; any seizures or memory loss by the injured athlete; and, any previous concussions, if known).
• Keep the athlete out of play until medically cleared to return.