A new device that measures a person's blink reflexes could soon be used to help diagnose concussion patients. Researchers believe this new device, called the Blink Reflexometer, could revolutionize how concussions are diagnosed on the field.
The Blink Reflexometer works by letting out a tiny gust of wind and tracking the patient's blink responses with a video camera. Each Blink Reflexometer session lasts about 40 seconds and includes approximately seven puffs of air. Analysts can take the video data from the Blink Reflexometer and analyze it more thoroughly on their computers.
Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, examined the Blink Reflexometer's efficacy on over 20 athletes in Division I American football between 2015 and 2016. All of these players were between the ages of 18 and 22.
Before collecting in-game data, scientists took a wide range of tests examining each player's overall health, baseline eye blinks, and performance history. According to the results of these tests, the athletes were placed in one of two groups: those that had a brain injury and those who didn't.
One of the major issues investigators wanted to clear up in this study was whether there's a difference between blink reflexes after a concussion and the normal blink reflex changes that occur while playing a sport. They found that there were significant differences between players who sustained a concussion and those who didn't.
Study authors said a few of the key indicators of a stroke included decreased blink latency and more pronounced lid excursions. By contrast, athletes who didn't have concussions had an increased blink latency and smaller lid excursions.
From their research, study authors conclude the Blink Reflexometer can be used to provide an accurate diagnosis of athletes uspected of a concussion. This simple and quick test could help coaches make a more objective decision whether to take a player out of the game or not.
Researchers believe blink reflex assessment tests will slowly become the norm not only in sports medicine, but also in diagnosing other brain issues. Some of the scientists involved in this study hope the Blink Reflexometer could be used to help doctors diagnose serious diseases like Parkinson's in the near future.
As a full disclosure, the lead authors on this study have financial stakes in the Blink Reflexometer technology. The Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences (ZIAN) supplied the majority of funds for this research. ZIAN also supported the development of the Blink Reflexometer in its initial stages.
Nancey Trevanian Tsai, who teaches neurosurgery at MUSC, was one of the lead authors of this study. Dr. Tsai was also one of the key developers of the Blink Reflexometer device.
Anyone who wants to read more about this research should pick up the latest copy of Cogent Engineering. Study authors entitled this study, "Blink reflex parameters in baseline, active, and head-impact Division I athletes."