Currently, there are few ways for doctors to accurately detect concussions in children. A recent study published from Northwestern University found that sound could be used to diagnose concussions with accuracy, which would be helpful for children who love sports and outdoor activities.

Concussions, a type of mild traumatic brain injury, are a result of an impact to the head that causes jarring of the brain in the skull. This sudden force can damage the brain, causing symptoms such as headaches, loss of consciousness and cognitive difficulty, and has been implicated in other problems later in life. The incidence rate of traumatic brain injuries, largely caused by vehicle accidents, falls and contact sports, has steadily increased over the past years; the Centre for Disease Control estimates that out of 100,000 emergency department visits in 2010, traumatic head injuries comprised of 521. Despite the growing awareness of the dangers of concussions, as well as its long-term effects on the brain, physicians still largely rely on observational and symptomatic treatment for diagnosis and treatment of concussions. Frequently, concussions do not show up as abnormal under standard structural imaging, making diagnosis and treatment difficult – as a result, growing emphasis has been put on research towards finding a definitive marker, or biomarker, for concussion.

In late 2016, Dr. Nina Kraus and her team at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the Northwestern University published a journal detailing the prospect of using sounds as a potential biomarker for concussion in children. The journal centers on how the brain processes auditory cues and whether or not this processing was damaged or altered in children with a concussion. The study followed 40 children split into two groups and tested their frequency-following response (FFR), a measure of the brain’s neural response to auditory cues. They found that children with a concussion had a smaller and slower response to sound and speech, supporting their hypothesis that concussions affect the neural response to speech – they were able to successfully predict 90 percent of children with a concussion and 95 percent of those without.

Though this study is one of the few to examine concussions through an auditory paradigm, it can have strong research and clinical implications if combined with other biomarker tests, which would help minimize the time before an accurate diagnosis can be made, resulting in increased quality of treatment and care.

Nature Magazine, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/srep39009