Your child takes a bad hit on the football field or falls from the pyramid in cheerleading and lands on her head. How do you know from the symptoms if he or she has a concussion?

Related: Concussions Are Biggest Health Risk to Cheerleaders

It may not be obvious right away. Symptoms could show up immediately — or a day or even a week later. But diagnosing a concussion is important because if your child has one, he or she will need to rest and stay away from sports for a while to allow the brain to heal.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that affects how the brain functions. It's often caused by a blow to the head but can also happen when the body is jolted so hard that the head is violently shaken, according to Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain," writes the CDC.

A concussion, while serious, is not usually life-threatening, and most people who suffer one make a full recovery. (Experiencing repeated concussions is a very different story, one that can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a degenerative brain disorder.)

Related: Getting Ahead of Concussions

Symptoms to watch for

A person doesn't have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. In fact, most people who suffer concussions don't. Here's what to keep an eye out for according to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic.

  • Confusion (during the game he might forget an instruction, appear confused about a position or be unsure of the score or opponent)
  • Answering questions slowly and/or with slurred speech
  • Appearing dazed or stunned
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Amnesia (for instance, not being able to remember getting hurt)
  • Headaches or "pressure" in the head
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Irritability or other changes in mood and behavior
  • Problems sleeping
  • Depression or feeling "down"
  • Just not feeling "right"

If you think your child might have a concussion

Talk to your child's doctor right away if you suspect a concussion. The doctor will likely perform a neurological exam and possibly cognitive tests and may order a CT scan. (There is no one, surefire way to diagnose a concussion, though a blood test is in the works.) He'll advise on how long a rest period your child needs. Meanwhile, keep your child away from sports and bike riding. Kids who return to physical activity too soon run an increased risk of a second concussion, which could be more serious.

While your child is recovering he should stick to his regular sleeping routine and limit intense mental concentration. Studying, reading, playing video games, using the computer and even watching TV may make concussion symptoms worse.

Related: Should You Let Your Son Play Football?

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Marianne has been producing content that informs and inspires for more than 20 years, with a deep focus on bringing readers accurate, actionable advice and helping them live healthier, safer lives. Before launching SafeBee, she was executive editor of Sharecare, the health website and social network. Previously, she developed more than two dozen illustrated consumer health books for Reader’s Digest. Her writing has appeared in numerous outlets including Arthritis Today and WebMD. Her favorite safety tip: Know the purpose of every medication you take and under what circumstances you can stop taking it.