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Hearing Assessment and Sport-Related Concussions

Hearing Assessment and Sport-Related Concussions

Sports can be an exciting form of entertainment but is notorious for the number of injuries it doles out to its athletes. Ten percent of athletes participating in any form of contact sport endure concussions each year. It is often difficult to identify concussions since athletes are so used to be being injured, but recent research indicates that athletes can undergo a hearing test in order to determine whether they have a concussion.

In the United States, concussions due to sport-related injuries accounts for two million concussions each year which can occur at any age or expertise level, ranging from children or athletes in schools to professionals. Of all these injuries, football accounts for the highest number of concussions compared to any other sports. Research indicates that professional football athletes sustain 900-1500 head injuries every season, many of which can lead to concussions.

A mildly traumatic form of brain injury that results from a fall or a strike to the head is known as a concussion. A concussion results in the brain moving to and fro within the skull at an extremely high pace which can result in damage to neural pathways due to sudden and constant contact with the skull. Even though the brain floats within cerebral spinal fluid that is meant to act as a shock absorber thereby protecting this organ, concussions can result in sudden disruption which can have detrimental effects.

Symptoms of concussion include nausea, exhaustion, lowered attention span, sleep disruption, mood swings, and difficulty remembering details. These symptoms are generally visible shortly following the injury. In addition to the above symptoms, concussions have resulted in severe migraines in over eighty percent of affected athletes.

Concussions are usually detected through CT or PET scans or MRIs which detect any form of lesions, fractures, or internal bleeding. However, these scans are only equipped to indicate the level of structural damage present rather than the extent of any functional damage such as the effects on behavioral affect or attentiveness.

The risk of having an incorrect diagnosis of a concussion can result in severe long-term health risks such as coma or death. Athletes who continue to play after their first concussion has healed put themselves at risk of sustaining another concussion which can further disrupt their brain function. This is why it is important to have affected athletes refrain from playing until they have made a complete recovery from their first concussion.

Scientific Reports recently published a study that indicates that hearing tests are better equipped at determining whether an athlete has endured some form of concussion. Concussions lead to lowered firing of neural signals within the brain which can be measured by hearing tests.

Neurologist Nina Kraus from Northwestern University, Illinois explored the brain activity and neural signals of athletes who had sustained a concussion through the use of three electrodes placed on the head. Sounds were played using a speech synthesizer and the results found that athletes who had sustained a concussion were unable to follow speech patterns properly. The brain responses of athletes with concussion were slower, which resulted in a reduced capacity to follow speech patterns. Furthermore, the study also discovered that the more severe the concussion, the more difficulty the athlete had in following speech. The results of the study found that this hearing test is an exceedingly precise method of testing for the presence and intensity of brain damage due to concussion.

Armed with the results of this study, neurologist Kraus hopes to generalize this accurate method of assessment to sporting complexes, schools, and laboratories throughout America. This testing method can easily and accurately determine whether the affected athlete is required to refrain from playing in order to heal from their concussion. Hearing tests can prevent athletes from enduring any further injuries, thereby saving the lives of our precious athletes.