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How New Technology Could Change the Way Concussions Are Diagnosed

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were roughly 2.5 million emergency room visits associated with traumatic brain injuries in 2010 alone and that the overall rate of these emergency room visits has increased by close to 70 percent over the previous decade.

While you would think that the medical community would respond to this rather startling development by creating instruments and procedures designed to better detect and treat TBIs like concussions, this hasn’t actually proven to be the case.

Indeed, the standard test employed to help diagnose a concussion remains measuring a patient’s ability to follow a medical professional’s moving finger with their eyes.

While this makes sense given that 90 percent of concussion patients demonstrate some type of disconjugate eye movements, meaning their eyes rotate in opposite directions, it nevertheless remains something of an imprecise science.

This reality, coupled with the fact that imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans can prove ineffective in diagnosing concussions in the absence of actual structural damage, has meant that concussion victims have long faced uncertainty concerning diagnosis, treatment and long-term prognosis.

Fortunately, this may soon change thanks to a recent study by researchers at New York University Langone Medical Center, who have developed a new technology that one person described as perhaps being “the missing piece to help better diagnose concussion severity.”

This study and its state-of-the-art tool actually consisted of nothing more than having participants watch 200 seconds of a music video while an eye-tracking device measured the movement of their pupils.

While a complete breakdown of the study, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, the researchers essentially found that concussion symptoms were more pronounced among patients that the eye-tracking technology measured as having more severe disconjugate eye movement.

According to experts, the study is promising in that it could help eliminate some of the uncertainty that comes from patient’s accounts of their injury and existing medical exams. Furthermore, they indicate that it is both simple and portable, meaning it could be universally adopted with little difficulty and at a reasonable cost.

“The beauty to [the researchers’] method is that it is non-invasive, reproducible and easy to perform … By tracking eye movements, they have been able to quantitatively assess the function of the brain,” said one expert unaffiliated with the study. “This work adds an important dimension to our ability to provide safe, rapid and accurate care to those who suffer TBI in sports or with daily life activities.”

It will be interesting to see if this eye-tracking technology becomes the new standard in frontline concussion care.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious brain trauma that you believe was caused by the recklessness of another, remember that you do have rights. Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional about your situation as soon as possible.

Source: MedicalExpress, “Novel eye-tracking technology detects concussions and head injury severity,” Jan. 29, 2015