Concussions in sport have received a lot of media attention recently. A concussion is a sudden but short-lived loss of mental function that occurs after an injury to the head. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth.

The medical term for concussion is a ‘minor traumatic brain injury’. While this can sound serious, the actual extent of the damage does not usually cause long-term problems.

There is however evidence that repeated episodes of concussion could cause long-term problems with mental abilities and trigger dementia. Those most at risk of this are professional athletes, such as boxers, footballers and rugby players, who are frequently subjected to blows to the head.

Most cases of concussion occur in children aged five to 14, with the most regular causes being sporting and cycling accidents. Falls and motor vehicle accidents are a more frequent cause of concussion in adults.

The most common symptoms of concussion are headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of balance, confusion, feeling stunned or dazed, disturbances in vision and difficulties with memory. Other, perhaps, less common symptoms include loss of consciousness, vomiting, slurred speech, glassy eyes, changes in behaviour and inappropriate emotional responses.

If it is suspected that a child, adult, or an athlete has a concussion they should be removed from play immediately.  This is vital as a repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems.

If a participator in a sporting activity experiences a bump or blow to the head or body, it is important to look for signs and symptoms of concussion and if in doubt they should be kept out of continuing to play. The sports player should then be evaluated by an experienced health care professional to determine the extent of the injury.