The most talked-about concussion in Washington this week could help spread a message that sports physicians and neurologists have been trying to get across to coaches and parents with increasing urgency. Concussions are not to be brushed off.

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is hit by Atlanta Falcons players during Sunday’s game. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Initially, the Redskins said Griffin was merely shaken up by a tackle. Later, it became clear things were much worse.

He wasn’t able to answer basic questions, and Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said he dismissed Griffin’s own assessment that he was “fine” because he could tell that something wasn’t right in his quarterback’s eyes.

However this plays out for the team, what’s certain is that it’s brought the issue of concussions front and center. That’s important because many parents often overlook the dangers involved.

Just yesterday the American Osteopathic Association released a survey revealing that only half of respondents who thought they or their kids had a concussion sought medical treatment.

Forget what we were told as kids, experts say. Concussions are brain injuries that need to be treated seriously.

“Education of children, parents and coaches is paramount to building a ‘play it safe’ culture on playing fields and playgrounds. ... Our children need to hear that the best play they can make for themselves and their teams is to sit it out if there is any possibility that they have a concussion,” said Jennifer Reesman, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Neurorehabilitation Concussion Clinic in Baltimore.

In an e-mail exchange we had on the topic, Reesman said the broader culture is beginning to change in terms of taking concussions more seriously. States such as Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District, have recently enacted laws that mandate that any child suspected of suffering a concussion must be evaluated by an expert with experience in brain injury before returning to play.

The first of these, called the Zackery Lystedt Law, was passed in 2009 in Washington State. It was named for a 13-year-old middle school football player who returned to play after a concussion, was hit again and suffered severe brain and physical damage.

Some concussions occur off the playing field, though, and Reesman said that’s why it’s important for parents to know what to look for.

“Parents are typically attuned to any period of unresponsiveness, loss of memory of recent events, behavior changes, pain or unsteadiness that their child exhibits just after impact to the head. Parents often do not know, however, that sometimes symptoms of concussion may not peak until the first few days after injury. For parents of young children, it is especially important to observe the child for signs and symptoms of an injury, as the young child may not have the language skills to tell us reliably that they have a headache or are dizzy.

“It is important to know that you don’t need to be knocked out to have a concussion, and concussion symptoms might be physical (like headaches), cognitive (difficulty with attention or memory), emotional (increased irritability) and/or related to sleep (either increased or decreased sleep compared to normal).”

Reesman recommended the Centers for Disease Control’s resources on the signs and symptoms of concussion.

One of the most troubling situations for parents is when they didn’t witness the injury or might not even know that it happened.

“In these situations, we have had parents that have to play detective when they have noticed something ‘off’ in their child, but the child may not have any recollection of the injury itself.”

If there’s a suspicion, Reesman advises erring on the side of caution.

“For a child with a concussion, a second hit to the head can have catastrophic results. If you are not sure whether or not a child has a concussion, it is better to be safe, keep that child out of play and seek input from a health-care provider.”

How knowledgable are you about the signs and symptoms of concussions?

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