Monday 24 July 2017

Reading the signs and staying in the game

Researchers from Orlando Health in Florida detected a biomarker released by the brain during injury
Researchers from Orlando Health in Florida detected a biomarker released by the brain during injury

Lindsay O'Sullivan

If you have watched the news, read the paper, or listened to the radio lately you probably have heard someone talking about concussion, especially concussion in sport. So what is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of brain injury that is caused by a bump to the head that can change the way the brain normally works. This injury can also occur from a fall or blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Unlike other injuries, concussion doesn't leave visible signs. There will be no bleeding, bruising or swelling.

Instead, one may have trouble concentrating, get a headache, feel dizzy, have trouble focusing and/or forget things recently learned.

Continuing to play in training or a match with a concussion could result in poorer performance and may increase the risk for a more serious injury or even long-term effects that continue for years.

Each year, approximately four million people, in the United States alone, get a concussion while playing a sport or participating in other activities like riding a bike. People tend to associate concussion with rugby and American football. However, you can get a concussion in other sports or activities, including hurling, camogie and Gaelic football.

A recent study found that about one in two elite, male GAA athletes reported a concussion before, with most reporting they had between two to five concussions in their athletic career.

This suggests that concussion is a problem in the GAA.

Concussions cannot be totally eliminated from contact sport, but the long-term health consequences post-concussion can be dramatically reduced if concussions are treated properly and athletes stay out of play while concussed. One way to do this is through concussion education.

As part of my research at NUI Galway, a number of GAA athletes and coaches throughout Ireland will be educated on the signs and symptoms of concussion, assessment and management of concussion and the short- and long-term health consequences of this injury through a concussion education programme.

We will evaluate how good this education programme is, and how it impacts athletes' and coaches' knowledge about concussion, attitudes towards this injury and concussion reporting behaviours.

It is important to realise that getting a concussion is more than just 'getting your bell rung' or a 'ding' to the head. They can be a serious injury that could lead to both short- and long-term health consequences. Even if you experience one symptom after a bump to your head you should consult with your doctors or coaches because it may be a more serious injury than you think. If you ever think you may have sustained a concussion don't hide it - report it.

After all, it is better to miss one match than the whole season.

Lindsay Sullivan is an Irish Research Council-funded PhD scholar in the Discipline of Health Promotion, School of Health Sciences at NUI Galway. Her main research interests are concussion education and prevention.

Irish Independent

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