Concussion from rugby 'could kill a youngster'
Second impact syndrome - which can cause the brain to swell rapidly - could kill a school-age rugby player in a matter of minutes, a leading neuropsychologist has warned.
And some pupils whose grades are slipping, and who struggle to concentrate in the classroom, could be suffering the effects of an undiagnosed bout of concussion following a heavy blow to the head.
Barbara O'Connell, CEO of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, has called for mandatory medical training for all coaches operating in school-age rugby.
She said that very often parents and teachers do not link unexpected behavioural changes in a teenager with an undiagnosed concussion-related episode on the field.
She highlighted a recent incident in which a schoolboy was found "drooling" and falling asleep in class having suffered a violent blow to the head during a rugby match.
"A teenager who has suffered a concussion might be displaying challenging behaviour in the classroom, their grades may be slipping, and they may be saying things at the wrong time. Their social peer network might start to break down," she said.
"Sometimes people don't attribute behavioural changes to the fact the teenager may have suffered a number of concussions while playing sport. It's subtle things that people don't pay attention to - and don't link back to what may have happened on the pitch.
"Some of the rules may need to be changed to reduce the amount of contact."
Meanwhile, Dr Elaine Kelly, a senior clinical neuropsychologist at Headway Services, the brain injury services and support organisation, pointed out that second impact syndrome is usually seen in children and very young adults, because the brain is still developing.
"If a player receives a bang to the head during a game and is concussed, the brain cells are in a very, very vulnerable condition," she said.
"If they're not removed from the field of play, and as a consequence the person sustains another substantial bang, this could cause another concussion. That cumulative effect can cause second impact syndrome. The brain is not able to manage the injury and it starts to swell. The person will die within a of minutes."