Could Hearing Tests Help to Identify Concussions? Over the past few years, concussions have made an appearance in popular and sports culture in a major way. There has been quite a bit of new research regarding true and lasting damage undiagnosed concussions can leave, which has caused quite a stir in the world of sports. Even Hollywood has weighed in on the conversation. “Concussion”, a blockbuster film released in 2015, starring Will Smith, chronicles a pathologist’s discovery of brain damage caused by football related concussions. So, what do concussions have to do with hearing tests? According to research conducted by Dr. Nina Kraus at Northwestern University – quite a bit.
While we’ve all heard of them, many people may not know what a concussion actually is. According to WebMD, “a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or another injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull” (webmd.com). No matter the type of injury that caused the concussion, the damage is the same. Our brains are soft organs that are surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by our hard skull. Most of the time, the spinal fluid protects our brain from bumping up against the skull by acting as a cushion. During a dramatic impact, however, your brain can jar so quickly that it crashes into your skull – thus causing a concussion.
Concussions often leave no visible signs, and don’t always cause a person to become unconscious. Ironically, some concussed people don’t feel any physical or intellectual symptoms whatsoever. On the other hand, some people feel symptoms such as not thinking clearly, nausea, or blurry vision. Because of these factors, diagnosing concussions is extremely difficult, and not always an exact science.
Currently, diagnostic practices are quite subjective. A doctor may ask you questions or show you pictures and then conceal them to assess your thinking abilities and memory. They may also test your reflexes, coordination, balance, and strength. Some neuropsychological assessments are also used to test changes in mood or emotion. However, without a baseline of one’s normal level of functioning in these areas, these types of diagnosis can be difficult (webmd.com).
Based on Dr. Kraus’ research, hearing assessments that measure speech intelligibility can help to identify concussions in children. While the sample size of only 40 children was quite small, the results of the research are astounding. The researchers were able to correctly identify children who had suffered concussion with 90% accuracy and those who hadn’t with 95% accuracy. It was found that children who had suffered concussions showed shorter and slower responses to speech sounds and pitch than the control group. It’s no wonder auditory processing is a good biomarker for brain injury. As Dr. Kraus explains, “it is the most precise, most complicated computational work the brain has to do… Sometimes the power of sound is understated. But we know the brain has to do extremely fast, precise processing of sound that’s just not required of us when we process other information.”
This exciting research has gained praise from other notable doctors as well, such as from Dr. Daniel Corwin, a pediatric emergency surgeon in Philadelphia. Dr. Corwin points out the need for more objective diagnostic criteria in determining concussions in children, and he praises the research as “very exciting… and a potentially very useful, objective marker of injury” (washingtonpost.com).
If you’re interested in reading the full publication of this study, it is available for free here.
Klaus hopes to eventually commercialize her research, after more extensive studies with larger and more varied study groups have been carried out. She is working with colleagues to eventually make the equipment more affordable and portable. Klaus hopes to have the equipment easily available on the sports field, court, or rink as handy concussion diagnostic kits in the near future. (itechpost.com).
While you may not need a hearing assessment to determine a concussion, there are many other benefits of taking a hearing test. Reach out to us today at AZ Balance and Hearing Aids to schedule yours, and start your journey towards better relationships, higher work productivity, and more enjoyment out of the beautiful sounds of life!