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Sunday 19 August 2018

Concussion in sport: 72 children attend Dublin hospital with head injuries from sport in just six months

72 children were brought to Temple Street due to head injuries from sport between January and June 2017 (stock image)
72 children were brought to Temple Street due to head injuries from sport between January and June 2017 (stock image)
Professor Alf Nicholson Credit: Shane Cowley
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

A leading children's doctor has said that it may be time to examine how children's sports are organised to lower the risk of head injuries.

In the first six months of this year 72 children were admitted to Temple Street Children's Hospital suffering from head injuries as a result of sports injuries.

Professor Alf Nicholson, a consultant paediatrician with Temple Street, said that while the number of admissions is relatively low when considered alongside the total number of admissions to the hospital head injuries there is a need for parents and coaches to be aware of the signs of a possible concussion.

"Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury when, for whatever reason a child has sustained brain or head injury -and has knocked their head or crashed into someone else," he said.

A body blow which causes a head jolt can also cause a concussion.

Second impact concussion - when the brain undergoes a second trauma before having time to recover from the first - can result in rapid swelling of the brain which can lead to death.

This is why it is vital for players to be taken out of the game when concussed.

Head injuries are caused by a number of sports including rugby, gaelic sports, horse riding and soccer he said.

While there are long-term risks associated with concussion in children if it is not managed correctly these are rare he said and in most cases children will have recovered from all symptoms in seven-10 days.

Professor Alf Nicholson Credit: Shane Cowley

Prof Nicholson said that the risk of head injuries in sports cannot be combated by the use of helmets or other protective gear.

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However, one way to look at reducing the occurrence of head injuries is to look at how underage sports are organised and look at whether a weight grade could be introduced instead of the usual age groupings he said.

"If you have a child who is a 100kg child they shouldn't be playing against a child who is only 60kg. If you bang into them in they [the lighter child] are likely to come off second best," he said.

An awareness around concussion has increased among the sporting community in Ireland he said.

Earlier this year an international expert called for the banning of rugby, MMA and American football should be banned among minors.

Dr Bennet Omalu gave a talk organised by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland where he said:

“The truth in this instance is that where there is an activity where the side of the head is exposed to repeated blows, there is a 100 per cent risk exposure to brain damage – that is a fact.”

Work is underway in the IRFU and the GAA to tackle the problem of concussion in sport and last year the groups jointly launched a campaign urging clubs to stick to the motto: 'If in doubt sit it out'.

A number of research studies into concussion in sport are also underway in Ireland.

A website,, offers advice for club officials and others involved in sports and has a section on concussion.

What signs should you look out for?

Any child who has received a blow or jolt to the head should be taken off the pitch to be assessed.

Some of the symptoms to look out for which suggest concussion include:

  • Loss of consciousness (but children do not need to be knocked out to have suffered concussion)
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss of the event

What should I do next if a child has suffered a head injury and you think they are concussed?

A child with a suspected concussion should always be assessed by a doctor.

My child has suffered a concussion how do I look after them?

In the immediate 48 hours after a concussion rest is important including measured sleep. Reading, exercise, TV and homework should be avoided.

Symptoms should be monitored for two weeks with regular activities being re-introduced with medical guidance and if symptoms permit.

Medical advice should be sought about returning to sport.

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