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US researchers study sound waves to help diagnose sports concussion

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Current methods for diagnosing sports concussion rely on how athletes answer questions and what can be observed. But now researchers in the United States are trying out a new approach, using sound wave technology in an effort to more rapidly and accurately diagnose concussion on the sidelines during games.

Scientists at the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center (VSCC) in Nashville, Tennessee, are trying out a non-invasive device that measures intracranial pressure (ICP).

According to Vanderbilt University this device, called the HS-1000, may prove to be an effective diagnostic tool for concussions. It could help end controversies over sports-related concussions and the quandaries about whether and when a player should go back into the game after suffering an impact.

At the moment, coaches have to rely largely on self-report systems — yet the competitive nature of athletes leads some to downplay or lie about their symptoms. The standardised tool SCAT3, which is used by medical professionals, also relies heavily upon subjective judgements.

“What we lack with concussions is a diagnostic tool we can hook you up to and say you definitely have one or you definitely don´t,” explained Tim Lee, MHA, M.S., a coordinator for the Vanderbilt study.

Male and female athletes aged between 13 and 25 are taking part in the study, which involves wearing two earbuds — one with a transmitter and the other with a receiver — for a 12-minute procedure during which a series of sound waves are sent through the cranial cavity.

The earbud set is connected to an Android-based tablet programmed with software and algorithms, and measurements of resistance from the sound waves are compared to normal ranges.

The researchers want to find out whether the device´s measurements are sensitive enough to detect concussions.

“Right now, we are just trying to burst through and get the healthy data,” Lee said. “The concussion data will just come as it comes. We have two concussed athletes in the study that we´re gathering data on. I think we have probably around 25 or 30 healthy subjects. We are trying to get 50 of each.”