Warning over head injury figures
Up to 24,000 people a year in Northern Ireland visit emergency departments with minor head injuries or concussion, it has been revealed.
Information on the potentially deadly knocks is being distributed in schools after Benjamin Robinson, 14, from Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, collapsed during a school rugby match in January 2011 and died in hospital from head injuries.
The Headway brain injury charity has supported a new awareness-raising campaign.
Communications manager Luke Griggs said it was vital that sportspeople recognise that even a minor head injury can have major implications.
"When someone suffers a minor head injury, it can be difficult to assess the level of damage done.
"The symptoms may take some time to present themselves, which can lead to delays in receiving treatment.
" While the majority of minor head injuries will result in no lasting problems, when there are complications delays in receiving treatment can be fatal.
"It is vital we continue to raise awareness of concussion in sport by providing players, officials, coaches and parents with information on how to identify it and the appropriate actions to take."
The charity estimates that approximately 25-30,000 people of all ages visit emergency departments each year, with one in five admitted to hospital.
This means most of the other four out of five will present with minor head injuries/possible concussions that do not require admission and are not classified as moderate or severe head injuries.
The charity estimated that 20-24,000 people visit emergency departments each year with a head injury but are not admitted, suggesting they have sustained minor head injuries or possible concussions.
William Hayhurst, a medical student aged 22 from Belfast, has launched a Sideline Concussion campaign urging young athletes to be aware of the signs of the condition, emphasising the importance of recognising it on and off the playing field.
The avid hockey player said: "In my experience young athletes often want to remain in play after a hard tackle or collision to avoid causing disruption to the game, sometimes out of fear of appearing weak or missing future games.
"They are also not always forced to leave the pitch and certainly aren't aware of what to look for as a sign of concussion following impact.
"My review of the current research literature on concussion also showed young athletes take longer to recover from minor head injuries and concussions than mature athletes."
Coroner Suzanne Anderson ruled that Benjamin Robinson died from second impact syndrome, which is caused when two concussive-type injuries are sustained within a short space of time.
She said it was the first death of its kind ever recorded in Northern Ireland and possibly a first for the UK.
The teenager's family has argued he should have been taken off the rugby pitch earlier and claimed if modern guidelines had been put in place he may still be alive.
Coaching staff and the referee were not made aware of Ben's neurological complaints and the teenager, who had been representing his local grammar school, continued to play until he collapsed unconscious at the end of the game.
He died in the Royal Victoria Hospital two days later.
His family have promised to fight for Ben's Law which would bring the UK into line with America where, in 40 states, those involved in contact sports have to sign up to concussion awareness guidelines.