One concussion happens, and a student feels alright. Another concussion happens and they sit out a few weeks then return to play. Later on, the athlete gets a small hit to the head, and they feel dizzy and can’t function the same.
After a series of concussions, a person’s brain is never the same. They have major neurological damage that could result in a series condition called Second Impact Syndrome, or possibly a more serious neurological disease in their future like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Students have died from this type of injury. According to Sports MD, “Second impact syndrome occurs when an athlete returns to sport too early after suffering from an initial concussion. The athlete does not need to receive a strong second blow to the head to set the effects in motion. The athlete may receive only a minor blow to the head or a hit to the chest or back that snaps the head enough to have the brain rebound inside the skull.”
“It’s very important that people go through complete concussion protocol before they return [to playing] because if they don’t, that’s when Second Impact Syndrome can occur,” Huss said. “Essentially Second Impact Syndrome is if you go back to soon and you get hit again. You could have immediate consequences, like the swelling of the brain.”
Another athlete, Rowan Stringer, also died from this syndrome while playing rugby. She was playing a game, and she got hit in the head and felt dizzy. She mentioned it to her friends but not her parents, and even if she was experiencing a lot of symptoms from a concussion, she didn’t consult with an adult or sit out in her second game. During that game, she got hit in the head again and never woke up.
Even though high schoolers have died from concussions, sometimes the brain reacts differently. Sometimes, instead of shutting down, the brain keeps on functioning, but later on in the victim’s life they suffer from brain disease due to the amount of hits to the head they got earlier in their life.
A new disease has come to light called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and scientists have been heavily focused on studying it. According to Boston University, this is a degenerative brain disease found in people with histories of repetitive brain trauma, for example, symptomatic concussions. This disease starts progressive degeneration of the brain tissue and an abnormal protein called tau builds up around blood vessels in the frontal lobe.There is probably an incredibly slim chance that a high school student gets this disease from a couple of concussions that they got, but it’s still serious.
CTE doesn’t start immediately after a series of concussions. It could, but it could also start months, years or possibly decades after the last hit to the head. There are many symptoms associated with this disease such as memory loss, confusion, depression and impaired judgement. During the third stage of this disease, the tau protein begins to spread to the brain making these symptoms more prevalent. After that, the fourth and last stage of this disease begins, and that is dementia. Nerve cells in the brain begin to die off one by one until the brain becomes half the size of a normal brain.
The disease is able to be detected through MRIs and CAT scans, and 96 percent of former NFL players tested positive to the disease that way. But because of the characteristics of this disease, it can only be diagnosed posthumously, in other words, after someone dies.
There are a lot of young adult athletes who’ve been severely affected by this disease, for example former NY Giants safety, Tyler Sash. Sash was cut by the Giants in 2013 after his, at least, fifth concussion. He began to act differently afterwards, more aggressive and angry. He was also constantly confused, couldn’t focus, and had a great deal of memory loss. Sash ended up dying at age 27 in September 2015, due to an overdose on pain medication. After his death, Sash’s mother donated his brain so that it could be tested for CTE, and he tested positive. He was only at stage 2 of the disease, but the disease still affected his life significantly. He couldn’t even hold a stable job because he couldn’t concentrate enough, and that was all because of CTE.
A lot of different organizations are researching this disease and trying to find out more about it, but it is very mysterious. There is only so much that scientists and doctors can do about it. The big thing is to be careful when one gets a concussion because it is more serious than people think.
“CTE is more difficult [to work with] because it takes years to show the side effects a concussion can have,” Huss said.