On-the-Field Vision Test Helps Diagnose Concussions in Athletes

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About 3.8 million American athletes sustain sports-related concussions each year, so a quick, reliable screening test done on the sidelines could help keep injured athletes from returning to play too soon.

A new test of players' vision may provide just that. Researchers created a new vision test that can be done on the sidelines just after an athlete sustains a strong hit to the head. The test can accurately detect a concussion, say researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. In this study, college athletes were asked to read a series of printed numbers, and their responses were scored for accuracy and time to completion. Concussions were later confirmed in players who scored an average of 5.9 seconds slower (worse) than the best scores of healthy athletes who served as controls.

Off the field, the test could help physicians more effectively diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients with concussions. It could be used in football, hockey, soccer, boxing, martial arts and other high-impact sports.  

Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI); if a patient doesn't allow time to fully recover from a concussion, he or she can suffer long-term damage that can affect vision, thinking, coordination and other key functions. The researchers plan to assess the test's effectiveness in a variety of sports and for different player positions.  If it proves widely reliable, the test could become the go-to option in the toolbox of sideline tests for concussion.

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