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Optometry's Role in Treating Sports Related Concussions and Injuries

March 01, 2018

Optometry's Role in Treating Sports Related Concussions/Injuries

By Doug Bennett, Contributor

Recent research indicates that patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are rehabilitated faster and more completely when optometrists are included as part of the overall health care team.

Over 50,000 deaths each year in the United States, and nearly 50 percent of all injury-related deaths are attributed to TBI. Falls are, by far, the most common cause of traumatic brain injury in the U.S.; however, other causes are starting to generate headlines, and the role of optometry in proper injury assessment is also grabbing attention.

Increased media coverage of war veterans who have sustained traumatic brain injuries during combat has helped elevate awareness about the long-term harmful effects when TBIs go untreated.  Additionally, there has been increased media coverage of TBIs among both youth and professional athletes who play contact sports like football and rugby. In fact, the leading cause of injury-related death and disability among children and young adults is traumatic brain injury. Conditions resulting from undiagnosed and untreated TBI often have devastating effects on quality of life and rehabilitative success of patients.

Optometrists play a crucial role in helping prevent and treat traumatic brain injuries—such as concussions—because vision is an excellent tool for identifying mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) among patients. Subtle changes to vision can get overlooked by practitioners who have not received specialized training in conditions of the eye. Visual pathways can account for over 50% of the brain’s pathways, which are often affected in concussion. Patients who have experienced concussion often exhibit signs of vision problems, including accommodative disorders, saccadic dysfunction and convergence insufficiency.

Children are especially vulnerable to the consequences of concussion because they often have more prolonged recoveries than adults with concussion do, leading to poorer outcomes. Recent studies have revealed a high prevalence of vision problems in adolescents who have experienced a concussion, along with substantial symptoms associated with those vision disorders. After receiving immediate treatment from a primary care physician, anyone with a concussion—children in particular—should be certain to schedule a follow-up comprehensive eye examination with an optometrist to ensure visual capabilities are intact and protected.

This elevated awareness about mTBIs is now creating a dramatic increase in office visits and referrals to doctors of optometry. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), of the 1.4 million traumatic brain injury-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths that occur each year, an estimated 75-90 percent are typically concussions or other forms of mTBI.

Because many doctors of optometry are already involved in the diagnoses and rehabilitation of people with traumatic brain injuries, the American Optometry Association (AOA) has developed a members-only tool called the Brain Injury Electronic Resource Manual (BIERM), which serves as a helpful reference to assist optometrists in evaluating brain injuries among patients. The BIERM emphasizes diagnosis of common visual problems associated with TBI, including accommodative, binocular vision and eye movement disorders. A second volume of the BIERM focuses on treating and managing brain-injured patients over time. Expect to see more research in the prevention of brain injuries, including the important role optometrists play in fall prevention—one of the biggest contributors to TBI among seniors.

When working as part of an interdisciplinary health care team in a hospital or clinic, doctors of optometry can introduce the latest research advances to help diagnose and treat visual conditions. They can also make appropriate referrals for patients who require more specialized treatment. Because they already know how to diagnose and treat TBI-related visual and ocular disorders, such as oculomotor dysfunctions, O.D.’s are now helping make a significant difference in patient outcomes, rehabilitative progress and overall quality of life.

Do you want to play an active role in shaping the future of health care delivery and patient outcomes? Invest some time browsing through the Merritt Hawkins jobs database, which features open positions of every type and stripe, in a variety of locales and work settings. Then contact one of our expert professional recruiters today to discuss next steps. 


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