How Saliva Could Help Detect A Concussion On The Footy Field

Athletes are lining up to participate in research that will show us the damage Australia's most loved sports can do to your brain.

What you need to know
  • Mild concussions are common and can be hard to detect, even in an MRI scan
  • It's hoped that a simple saliva swab on the sports field will detect the level of mild brain damage
  • Short term cognitive side effects of concussions are common and can be debilitating

A swab of your saliva could soon detect the level of brain injury suffered after you take a knock to the head during your weekend footy game.

Australian sporting legends have given their support to researchers at The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) in an Australian first study on the effects of concussion to develop a more convenient and accurate way of diagnosing the common brain injury.

Mild concussions often go un-diagnosed as the changes in the brain that occur during a concussion can be cognitive, a traditional MRI scan often only picks up tissue damage QBI Senior Research Doctor Fatima Nasrallah told Ten Eyewitness News

"Unlike a very severe traumatic brain injury where you can just take an image of the brain and look at the structure and see the damage that been imposed on the tissue,  with concussion you don't see that," she said.

Players of contact sport have a higher risk of concussion but with sport such a integral part of Australian culture, QBI scientists are hoping to develop a simple saliva swab screening tool that will allow medical staff to quickly and accurately identify whether or not it's safe for a player to continue on the field after a blow to the head.

Researchers will combine baseline scans before and after sports players suffer a concussion and combine the results with saliva swabs, in the hope to illuminate scans by focusing on the changes in saliva.

Side effects of a concussion can be debilitating as recently retired Tennis player and #NoBrainNoGame campaign ambassador Casey Dellacqua knows all too well. The cognitive side effects that occurred after she hit her head during a 2015 match took her off the court for almost a year.

Source: facebook.com/caseydellacquatennis

In a social media post Dellacqua said the aftermath of the impact was the most difficult part of recovery.

"My post-concussion symptoms were terrible and for weeks I could not look at my phone or the TV as I was so sensitive to light. I could not concentrate long enough to hold a conversation and I felt like I was in a world of drowsiness," she said.

Casey Dellacqua hit her head during a 2015 match in Beijing.
Source: Facebook.com/caseydellacquatennis/

Other athletes partnering with QBI as ambassadors include NRL player Martin Lang who suffered ten concussions during his career, including representing Queensland in three State Of Origin games.

He says that when he was playing the sport in the 1990's and 2000's that shaking off a knock to the head was seen as a badge of honor. He now is a proud ambassador of the #NoBrainNoGame campaign and hopes to bring awareness to the severity of concussions.

QBI estimate that 42 million people worldwide suffer from concussions each year and in many cases, people don't seek medical attention.

The research will compare bio-markers at different points in the days and weeks after physical contact to the head happens. Sports stars and every day players have been recruited to participate in the tests that will follow players in the days and weeks after a concussion.

The research is critical for for Aussies where contact sports are a part of our way of life, QBI Director Professor Pankaj Sah said.

"By understanding more about concussion and knowing the appropriate timeframes that athletes should take off from sport to prevent further injury to the brain, we will help keep the community involved in sport and keep players safe," he said.

READ MORE:  Rugby Safety Review

Contact the author: ncarroll@networkten.com.au