Breath test for concussion could help sportsmen and women

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Scientists are in the process of development a pitch-side breathalyser that can be used to determine if a rugby player or footballer is suffering from concussion.

The aim of the device is to detect chemicals in the breath which are associated with concussion after a blow to the head.

This is an extremely condition and is often not recognised as there is no easy or practical method of testing it.

A trial of 40 students at the University of Birmingham may be the answer to the development of a suitable device, which will be available to amateur and professional clubs.

Concern for the health risks to athletes suffering head knocks, particularly children, is increasing. Some experts have gone as far as calling for a ban on headers in school-level football.

Both experts and players have raised strong criticism about a psychological concussion test which allows professional players to return to the game after a few minutes of being given the ‘all clear’.

Evidence has shown that repeated head blows can cause serious damage, which may result in symptoms similar to dementia, as is often seen in boxers who are ‘punch-drunk’.

Scientists involved in the breathalyser research test said the Pitch-Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) test which is being used by the International Rugby Board was possibly placing players at risk.

The University of Birmingham’s Professor Tony Belli said some players have stated that it is quite easy to fool the test. He said he was concerned about the use of this test. If a player has concussion and is returned to the playing field, he or she is being placed at risk.

A colleague at the university, Dr Michael Grey, stated that obvious concussion symptoms may only appear after a significant time.

The breathalyser would offer players and clubs a cheap, simple and robust technique of testing.

Experiments have indicated that small traces of particular chemicals linked to concussion can be detected in the urine, blood and possibly even in the breath of players. Researchers will assess the relationship between the levels of the molecules in urine and blood and the rates of concussion among young athletes.

Image Credit: Edward Morgan

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