The dangers of concussion in football codes:
The dangers posed by concussion are currently the subject of considerable scrutiny in several sports
Experts who want tighter regulation of concussion in sport are trialling new medical tests that could provide rapid, pitchside diagnosis.
The “return to play decision” after a head injury is a serious problem that has caused tragedy and controversy.
Among the new proposals is a breath test, which successfully detects key chemicals in early laboratory trials.
Produced by the damaged brain, these chemicals are known to indicate a brain injury when found in the bloodstream.
Further trials will establish whether the same markers can also be detected in athletes’ breath, and whether such a breath test would pick up the kind of brain injuries commonly seen in sports like rugby, football and American football.
“These biochemical compounds from the brain can be measured in a number of different fluids – for example, saliva and breath,” explained Prof Tony Belli, a neurosurgeon and medical researcher from the University of Birmingham.
“At the moment a breathalyser is tuned to detect alcohol – but you can reengineer it to detect other things. And you need to refine the technology at the same time, to detect very small amounts.”
If breathalysers could be adapted in this way, Prof Belli said that the tell-tale chemical signature of concussion could potentially be detected within five or 10 minutes of the injury.
Prof Belli and his colleague Dr Michael Grey presented their work at the British Science Festival in Birmingham.
Objectivity called for:
Currently, different sports use a variety of psychological tests and waiting periods before making a decision to send a player back onto the field.
The reliability of these tests is controversial and it has been suggested that players can fudge them or even “sandbag” the results, by deliberately underperforming in the pre-game tests that are used for comparison.
Among the tests is a five-minute assessment introduced by the International Rugby Board in 2012, which attracted criticism.
The NRL in Australia has also adopted an assessment for league players who appear to have had a head impact that could lead to concussion.
Heading in soccer:
Second concussion syndrome: