Seeing stars: Spotlight returns on football, concussions

September 4, 2014
Doctors of optometry can help in detecting concussions and vision rehabilitation

Baseball may be America's pastime, but football is the country's favorite sport—one in which injury is common. So while the school of hard knocks is back in session, doctors hope an attention on concussions will help athletes learn the right lesson instead of just a lesson before it's too late.

That's part of the gridiron education that Derek Cunningham, O.D., AOA Sports & Performance Vision (SPV)  immediate past chair, tries to impart on his patients with knowledge he's gained both in a doctor's white coat and a University of Waterloo jersey. Memories of his first football-related concussion still ring true today.

"Back when I played, if you were seeing foggy and your head hurt, it was called 'getting your bell rung.' And as soon as you could run, you were back in the game," Dr. Cunningham said in an interview with AOA Focus. But today all that has changed.

While practitioners look for better ways to help diagnose and rehabilitate concussion patients, optometry is already providing answers.

Hard competition

Sports aren't the leading cause of concussions—most are attributed to falls—yet injuries under the stadium lights dominate headlines. The NFL reports 228 diagnosed concussions last season, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that football accounts for the highest rate of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in high school sports.

"In every community kids are playing sports, and that risk of concussion is always there," said Fraser Horn, O.D., AOA SVS chair. "(Doctors of optometry) need to be ready for these TBIs to come in."

Because more than 50% of the brain is devoted to vision, Doctors of optometry are a crucial part of a multidisciplinary approach to care. Studies have found concussed patients often display signs of vision problems, including accommodative disorders, convergence insufficiency and saccadic dysfunction, among others.

Along with tests to determine likelihood of concussion following injury, practitioners are also crucial in helping rehabilitate patients' vision.

Access clinical manual

Members can find the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Section's new Brain Injury Electronic Resource Manual(BIERM), a comprehensive resource to aid Doctors of optometry in evaluating patients with brain injury.

The BIERM discusses areas of evaluation and assessment, including:

  • Tips for better examinations and evaluations.
  • Reviewing patients' TBI history.
  • Diagnosing visual disorders associated with TBI.
  • Coordinating with an interprofessional care team.

Read more about optometry's role in concussion management in the September edition of AOA Focus.

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