Heads-up for children: Helmets save lives

At every age, being active is important to good health. As a parent, encourage your children to get plenty of exercise. Not only does it help them grow up strong and healthy, it’s the start of a habit that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Be aware, however, that certain activities require the use of a helmet to keep children safe. Bumps and scrapes are a normal part of growing up for most kids. But keep in mind that although cuts, bruises and even broken bones will heal, damage to a child’s brain can be permanent. A helmet can help protect your child from a serious brain or head injury.

Children, adolescents and young adults, ages 5 to 24, have the highest rate of bicycle-related injuries, accounting for more than half of all bike-related injuries in emergency departments.* Wearing a bike helmet reduces the risk of serious head and brain injury by 85 percent. In a fall or crash, the helmet absorbs much of the force of impact that would otherwise be directed to the head. Thick plastic foam inside the helmet’s hard outer shell cushions the blow.

Hennepin County Medical Center safety expert Julie Philbrook, RN, fits hundreds of kids with helmets every summer. She says, “Unfortunately, there just aren’t a lot of places where parents can get free or low-cost helmets. HCMC clinics have a limited number for the patients they see, and some communities have giveaways. Look in your local newspapers for information.”

Tips for helmet use

Choose a helmet that fits well. It should fit snugly and not slip back and forth or side to side. Buy a helmet that fits your child now, not one that he or she will grow into.

Be sure the helmet is in good condition. If it has been involved in a crash or fall, replace it, even if it looks fine. Damage to a helmet can’t always be seen.

Teach your child to wear it consistently and correctly. This means wearing it every time your child participates in the activity, and securing the helmet properly.

If your child doesn’t want to wear a helmet, ask why. Once you learn what the reason is, you can find a way to overcome the obstacle. It’s often easier to get children to wear a helmet if they like the way it looks.

Outfit your child with a sport-specific helmet for:

  • Biking
  • Football
  • Hockey (goalies need different helmets than other players)
  • Horseback riding
  • Lacrosse
  • Skateboarding
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Softball or baseball (batters need different helmets than catchers)

We’re here if something goes wrong

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But if your child is injured while being active, rest assured that caring professionals are available to help 24/7 in the emergency department at Hennepin County Medical Center, which has been providing world-class trauma care to our community for more than 25 years. Traumatic Brain Injury Program Director, Carol Ann Smith, RN, says “If you suspect or have seen your child hit their head while at play, there are a couple of things you should check for right away. If your child has fainted, is vomiting, complains of a severe headache or is so sleepy you can’t wake them, call 911 and get them to an Emergency Department. The ED staff will assess them and possibly order a CT scan, and determine if they need to be admitted to the hospital.”

For a more mild injury, your child may have some typical symptoms over the next few weeks. They may experience headache, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, dizziness or a “spinning” feeling. Feeling very tired is also common, along with having no energy and sleeping a lot. This is the brain’s way of getting rest to heal itself. They may also have difficulty concentrating, remembering new information and thinking clearly. Some may complain of feeling “dazed” or “foggy.” Others may have a change in mood, feeling irritable or very emotional.

These symptoms are quite common, but most people feel better in two to four weeks. If your child is still having symptoms 10-14 days after the mishap, they should be seen by an expert in traumatic brain injury (also called a concussion) to have their symptoms assessed and treated. For an assessment or more information, contact the Hennepin Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at 612-873-3284.

* Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov

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