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SALT LAKE CITY — Every school day in Utah, at least three kids experience a concussion, health officials warn, noting that most are reported in the fall.

It’s a risk most parents don’t even think about when sending their kids to school, said Traci Barney, traumatic brain injury coordinator with the Utah Department of Health.

“Anytime someone hits their head — there doesn’t have to be a loss of consciousness, but, rather a change in the way you think right after hitting your head — if there is memory loss or you black out, that’s a sign of a concussion,” she said. “Concussions need to be taken seriously.”

Between 2016 and 2019, 1,521 Utah students suffered a concussion while at school, the health department reports, averaging 14 a week in the Beehive State. And most of those were reported during September, October and November.

The majority (59%) of concussions reported were suffered by male students, and more than a third (37%) happened during lunch, recess or physical education classes. The numbers show that running was the most common activity a student was participating in when they sustained a concussion, with football and walking equal culprits after running.

“Be aware that it can happen anywhere and at any time,” Barney said, adding that concussions aren’t just happening to the older kids. The health department collects voluntary injury reports from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“If they do fall on the playground, as if they hit their head, sometimes they won’t even know and people are most likely worried about their body, whether they have a broken bone or something,” Barney said. “You just don’t know how hard they may have hit their head.”

Depending on how a person’s brain reacts to the injury, there could be damage.

Symptoms of a concussion can include feeling dazed, stunned or confused, nausea, fatigue and behavioral changes including a loss of balance, memory lapse, particularly forgetting right before and right after the injury, slow response time, and feeling tired or easily angered.

Barney said that for 20% of concussions, effects can last up to six weeks or longer.

It is always a good idea to have a physician confirm whether a person has suffered a concussion, she said. In addition to seeing a doctor, Barney said it is important to notify school administrators so appropriate accommodations, such as allocating more time for assignments, sitting closer to the board, or other things can be made in the classroom.

“It takes a couple days and sometimes even weeks for the brain to heal,” she said, adding that concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury, depending on their severity.

Utah has a law that requires physician clearance to return to play if a student suffers a concussion during competitive sport, but it does not have a return-to-learn policy regarding when it is safe to return to school following a concussion.

Most students, however, return to pre-injury functioning within three to four weeks of their injury, Barney said.

Concussions, she said, can affect sleep, performance and cause headaches that can prevent other functioning.

The health department wants people to know it can happen, and often does at school, but also that there are resources to help deal with it if it does.

For more information, contact the Utah Department of Health Resource Line, at 1-888-222-2542 or visit health.utah.gov/tbi.

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Wendy Leonard

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