Number of concussions among student athletes growing

(NBC) - With the beginning of football season comes concerns about players' safety. New statistics are out on the number of athletes sent to the emergency room for concussions.

More often than ever,  the players are younger than you might think. One hard hit can knock an athlete senseless.

"It's probably the scariest thing that's ever happened to me, to wake up and not know what's happening or why you're so groggy and why you can't remember anything," said a teen student who suffered 4 concussions as a high school football player.

A new study finds older teens have the highest rate of emergency room visits for sports -related concussions among children, but the study shows concussions among younger players ages 8- to 13-years old - have doubled since 1997.

"Quite clearly a lot of concussions were going undiagnosed."

Concussion experts say middle schoolers may think they need to play through the pain and often have difficulty explaining their symptoms when they get knocked around on the playing field. It seems adults are getting better at detecting concussions when their young patients aren't much help.

"When a brain is still developing, it's still wiring, it's still getting organized," says Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher with the Michigan Neurosport Concussion Program. "There's a lot that can go wrong, and at that age it's really important to be very careful."

To boost concussion awareness the Centers for Disease Control just released a free online training tool for coaches and parents. Experts say one of the best ways to determine the severity of a head injury is to give athletes baseline cognitive tests before and after heavy hits.

The tests are easily accessed by professional athletes but not widespread among pee-wee players.

"It's the mom in small town Oklahoma who is worried about her junior high kid. How can she get a baseline test?" Dr. Kutcher explained.

For those not in the game, information and education may be the best protective gear you can have.  Classic concussion symptoms include headache, confusion, dizziness and balance issues. Kids can also exhibit personality changes.

Football and ice hockey were the organized team sports associated with the highest numbers of concussions.

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