Tackling Concussions

Device could look into the eyes to detect brain injuries.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) – One hard hit can be enough to rattle the brain and cause a concussion. But every player's experience is different.

“I got up and felt kind of queasy,” said Troy Menna, a high school running back. 

While for other athletes, the results are more serious. “I immediately got lightheaded, and my vision went blurry, and my ears were ringing," said Tyler Stow, a high school quarterback.

But it is the player's mentality to want to get back in the game immediately that concerns parents, coaches and doctors the most. 

"I was able to shake it off and keep playing," said Nick Reyes, a high school quarterback. 

According to former New York Giants defensive back and special teams player Reggie Stephens, the depression symptoms that he struggles with on a daily basis are a direct result of his time on the field. 

Stephens remembers vividly the play that he believes changed his life.  “I was running down on a kickoff and I literally got blindsided," said Stephens.  "I got knocked off my feet. I literally walked to the Dallas sideline to the right." (The Giants side was to the left.)

During a game, the team's medical staff has limited ways to quickly identify if a player has suffered a concussion and should be benched.  “I just got checked out on the sideline," said Stow.  "She asked me if I was thinking clearly, like if I felt fine enough to stand up, walk on my own.”

Dave Baron, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says there is a way to tell if a player has had a concussion that is more objective and can't be faked.  "You look into their eyes and they get that kind of glazed look," said Baron.

This makes the eyes the focus of a new sideline test for players.  "We’re developing a mobile eye-tracking tool for concussion assessment,” said Brian Robinson, a biomedical engineering student.

The test uses eye-tracking software. Players look at a red dot on the screen and follow it with their eyes.  The software can quickly track eye movement and detect possible problems like the slower, less controlled eye movements that are the typical symptom of a concussion.  The test will be used on any smartphone or tablet.  All that a user needs to add is a low-cost eye tracking device.

“The eyes talk to the brain, we call that vision but the brain also talks to the eyes," said Baron.  "But when the brain has actually been injured, we can actually measure that in changes in the way the eyes are able to move."

For best results, players will take a baseline test at the beginning of the season which will be compared to tests taken after the athlete has taken a hit.  Any difference in the test results could indicate a concussion. 

The tool could give coaches and doctors a new way to assess if it is safe for players to get back into the game.

Go Inside The Science:

Brain Injury Startup Develops Concussion Test

Dave Baron, University of Southern California

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.