ER visits, hospital admissions for children with concussions skyrocketing

The number of children visiting the emergency room for sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) has skyrocketed, new research suggests.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from more than 3,800 children and teenagers who presented at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center with sports-related TBIs between 2002 and 2011.  During that period, the number of TBI-related ER visits, which often involved concussions, increased by 92 percent.

The findings are potentially worrying, as studies have shown that TBIs can have long lasting health effects on children.

“The foundation of the whole research study is partly due to the fact that kids have increased morbidity and mortality in relation to sports-related traumatic brain injuries,” lead author Dr. Holly Hanson, an emergency medicine fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, told

Additionally, the number of children being admitted to the hospital for these injuries is also on the rise.  Approximately 10 percent of children stay at the hospital after presenting with a TBI, and the researchers found that these admissions increased proportionally to the increase in ER visits.  Overall, sports-related TBI hospital admissions increased by 85 percent during the study period.

While visits and admissions to the hospital have increased, the severity of the children’s injuries ultimately decreased from 7.8 to 4.8 - scores calculated using established medical measurements for trauma.  The leading causes for TBIs included football, skateboarding and rollerblading, skiing and sledding.

Though the study did not explore why more children and teenagers are going to the hospital for head injuries, Hanson and her colleagues believe an increased awareness of concussions could explain the numbers.

“I suspect that the community as a whole is doing a much better job at identifying concussions and seeking medical attention early,” Hanson said.  “The NFL and CDC have a nice ‘Heads Up’ campaign that has made great strides in educating the public.”

Hanson also suggested that the increase may be due to the fact that children and teenagers are bigger and faster than they were 10 years ago.  In regards to increased admission rates, the researchers speculate that doctors are ordering fewer CT scans, prompting them to observe patients in the hospital to see if their symptoms get worse.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injury is a “serious health problem in the United States.”  Approximately 1.7 million TBIs occur each year, contributing to more than 30 percent of all injury-related deaths in the U.S.

Though Hanson’s study may seem like further cause for concern, she says more research is needed to better understand these numbers.  Overall, she said parents should continue to stay vigilant about their children’s health.

“One big takeaway here is that if a parent is worried their kid has a concussion, they shouldn’t hesitate to use emergency services,” Hanson said.  “We’re doing a good job of recognizing symptoms and when to take kids to the hospital.  As a whole, we’re doing better.”