Teens with sport-linked concussion up 40%

There has been a more than 40% increase in teenagers turning up at emergency departments with sports-related concussion in the last year, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Emergency consultant at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin John Ryan said the significant increase was due to greater awareness about concussion in sport.

“I think that parents, players, coaches, managers and increasingly junior and emergency medicine doctors are becoming more aware of concussion,” said Prof Ryan.

Prof Ryan was one of a number of experts at yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children when it addressed the implications of concussion in sport.

Adolescents presenting with concussion were the biggest group, with a 41% increase recorded in the last year.

Prof Ryan said most sporting activity in Ireland was not supported by either medical or paramedical expertise.

“In reality, most concussed athletes are initially assessed by friends and/or coaching staff,” said Prof Ryan.

There was also evidence that some athletes hid their symptoms deliberately, or through ignorance, to try and prevent being withdrawn from sporting activity.

Prof Ryan said the emergency department he worked in had developed a concussion review clinic where the person who had concussion was re-examined and advised about returning to play.

He said it would be great to see similar clinics held in other hospitals as part of a multi-disciplinary approach to managing concussion.

Prof Ryan said the death in 2011 of 14-year-old rugby player Ben Robinson is just one of a number of highly publicised cases that have raised public awareness of concussion.

The teenager collapsed at the end of a game in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, after being involved in several heavy tackles during a school match.

The matter of players continuing to play following suspected head injury was raised earlier this year by the highly controversial decision to allow Australia’s George Smith to return to action during his side’s third test defeat to the British & Irish Lions.

Dublin GAA football player Rory O’Carroll also continued to play while concussed in the All-Ireland final against Mayo last year.

“We are definitely seeing more patients now,” said Prof Ryan.

A study by St Vincent’s looked at the number of head injuries in sport treated over two seasons — 2013/2013 and 2013/2014.

“We have had a significant increase in the number presenting,” said Prof Ryan. “And I don’t think that’s because more people are playing. I think it is because there is greater recognition and a greater need to seek help.”

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