Device Aims to Detect Concussion Symptoms in the Blink of an Eye

A new device made by Blinktbi is hoping to use an athlete’s blink reflex to search for impairments that might indicate brain trauma or a possible concussion.

The Blinktbi device administers a 20-second test that assesses neurological impairment by tracking eyelid movement and reflex time in athletes. It blasts five small puffs of air into their eyes and measures their blink reflex using high-speed cameras. The blink reflex has been used historically by doctors to detect neurological impulses of patients in a coma. Research by Dena Garner, a professor of exercise science at The Citadel, that used Blinktbi’s system suggested the blink reflex could be an immediate way to assess concussions.

The Blinktbi test could detect warning signs of hard-to-diagnose concussions that trainers might not catch. “What we want to find are the ones that are going undiagnosed or where players are going back out too soon and aren’t ready to return to play, or vice versa,” said Ryan Fiorini, co-founder of Blinktbi.

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Currently, the majority of methods for diagnosing concussions rely mostly on overt symptoms. The National Football League Head Neck and Spine Committee’s guidelines for concussion diagnosis and management for the 2017/18 season stipulated amnesia, loss of consciousness, and confusion as ‘no-go’ symptoms that would prevent an athlete from returning to play. Yet according to an August 2018 article in Contemporary Pediatrics by Pat Bass, the chief medical information officer at Louisiana State University, research indicates only 10 percent of concussions involve loss of consciousness.

By tracking less obvious concussion symptoms, the founders of Blinktbi hope that, once the device is approved by the FDA, they can help athletes prevent larger injuries that could cause them to miss more games in the long run. Skipping a practice because of mild concussion symptoms is preferable to missing a month of games due to an untreated concussion turning into a major neurological issue. “We have a few coaches who are planning to check the players the day after every game,” Fiorini said. “It’s a moral and ethical issue, but it’s also your job.” The device could also potentially help athletes be cleared to play sooner if they recover from a concussion faster than the current protocol stipulates.

Fiorini hopes that Blinktbi will hit the market next year, retailing for $10,000. The company has set up a non-profit and a leasing program to help youth sports programs afford the device.

“In the past, the message about concussions wasn’t really heard,” Fiorini said. He likened playing through the pain of a concussion to an old school rite of passage. But he said on the field and in the locker room that’s no longer the case. “It’s definitely changing. The stigma of saying ‘I have a concussion’ is changing.”

SportTechie Takeaway

Scientifically diagnosing concussion symptoms—in a way that’s portable, minimally invasive, and real-time—is a game-changer for sports. Not only does it keep athletes safer on the field, reducing the time they might have to miss because of injury, but it could also help them resume sports activities sooner. With global patents, Blinktbi is hoping to become the go-to concussion triage technology at all levels of sport, but the technology is applicable beyond sport as well. The company is hoping to market the technology to the military or for use in medical settings to diagnose neurological diseases.

Read more: sporttechie.com

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