High School Students At Risk Of Long-Term Concussion Effects

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New studies are showing athletes, especially teenage athletes, might be paying a long-term price for the glory of playing under the Friday night lights.

There are between two and four million concussions per year in the United States.

Most of those injuries are to high school football players, which means there are a lot of underdeveloped, adolescent brains taking a hit. 

Repeated blows can mean serious problems – even death.

Roger Bunce is a 16-year-old football player from Eastern High School who, because of a few hard hits, can't remember his last game.

"I was pass-blocking and a guy was blitzing and we went helmet to helmet and I seen a black light, and I went down," he said. "I got back up, I made sure I blocked another guy, of course; I played two more possessions and after that, I wasn't right."

A concussion is an injury that occurs when the brain slams into the skull.

"We do get instances where some kids or athletes will suffer for a long period of time, and very rarely indefinitely," said Ohio University Physician Craig Chappell.

For teenagers, the effects of a concussion last longer, meaning a longer time out of the game.

At Athens High school, even a suspected concussion means the player must sit on the bench.

Athens High School Athletic Trainer Casey Link tests for suspected concussions.

"First we'll go on the field and do an immediate assessment, make sure they're conscious and can tell me what happened," he said

"If they're comfortable, we'll take them off the field and start asking them questions about who they are, where they are and who I am."

The player is never allowed back on the field during a game if he shows any sign of a concussion. 

The student also may be referred to a doctor to undergo balance and competency tests.

There are ways to get a concussion other than being hit in the head, like from whiplash.

"If you have a strong enough impulse being transmitted through the rest of the body, through the head and neck, it's going to result in the same thing," Chappell said.

He said the good news is that concussions have only short-term effects, lasting three to 10 days if the patient truly gets over the concussion.

For some students, suffering from a concussion could mean getting out of their next test.

"We usually will have them with teachers' notes that have them relax during school," Link said.

Just don't get too many concussions, she warned.

"No matter the degree, whether they are mild or severe, the next one is never better," Link said.

"Concussions are progressive so you become more susceptible to a concussion once you've had one."

A recent study of former NFL players shows these athletes are prone to dying from brain disease, which might mean repeated blows to the head may be more dangerous than many realize.

Thirty-eight states have passed laws similar to those in the NCAA requiring high school players to sign a waiver before playing, promising to disclose concussion-like symptoms.

At the moment, there is no such law in effect in Ohio or West Virginia but there is one in the works in the Buckeye State that would mimic the concussion provisions of the NCAA.

Click here to view the entirety of the bill online.

Symptoms of a concussion include dizziness, difficulty balancing, nausea, confusion, memory problems, sluggishness, sensitivity to light or noise and sleep problems.

Doctor Chappell and Ms. Link agreed that the best thing to do after a concussion is rest – both physically, and mentally.