Right around this time of year, our kids start banging heads again, gearing up for the 2017 football, soccer and cheerleading seasons.

With that, New Jersey physicians hope you, and coaches, know the signs of a possible concussion and how to react.

American football players
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"The vast majority of concussions in children and young adults do not have long-term ramifications," said Dr. Mark McLaughlin, head of neurosurgery at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. "But it is important to treat a concussion aggressively and appropriately because if they're not, the chances of it being a problem down the road are slightly higher."

McLaughlin, who also coaches wrestling, is a huge believer in youth sports. Most importantly, they take kids away from the television, phone and computer, and force them to get some exercise, he said.

Parents and coaches need to know that a concussion is not always accompanied by a loss of consciousness or frequent headaches, he said. The brain injury can manifest itself as trouble thinking or concentrating, difficulty keeping balance, irritability or trouble with one's appetite, even days after a blow to the head.

When speaking to his patients, McLaughlin describes a concussion as Hurricane Sandy inside a brain's cells. Their delicate balance of charged particles in thrown out of whack, and the brain needs to exert a lot of energy in order to return to normal. And that's why rest is needed, and strenuous activity should be avoided, when a patient is trying to recover.

"Once the symptoms are gone, then we can gradually increase on the strenuous activities," he said.

McLaughlin said he's witnessed a big uptick in parents' awareness of and concerns over concussions. And that's a good thing.

"We don't want to wrap our kids in bubble wrap and protect them from every possible chance for them to hit their head," he said.

While speaking to New Jersey 101.5's Steve Trevelise, South Brunswick High School football coach Joe George said safety is a big issue at all levels of the sport. But proper techniques should help players avoid the harshest collisions.

"I think the benefits far outweigh the risks if you're being coached and taught properly," George said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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