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High-tech football helmets let doctors see a concussion as it happens

High-tech football helmets let doctors see a concussion as it happens
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK

If you've ever watched your son get slammed down on the football field, or your daughter take a blow to the head on the soccer field, you know it's a scary moment. Worse, your worry doesn't go away.

If you've been through this, you know there isn't a good way for doctors to tell you if your child has suffered a concussion. There are tests they conduct, like watching your kid's eyes for unusual movement. Or they'll ask questions to test their memory. But they're just looking for evidence that your child may have suffered a concussion.

Concussions happen all the time. About 250,000 child athletes go to the emergency room each year for head traumas suffered while playing sports.

Concussions are serious. You may have heard about professional football players opting out of lucrative contracts, out of fear of getting concussions. Just this week, 23-year-old Green Bay Packers wide receiver Adrian Coxson retired from the NFL after his concussion symptoms didn't go away, even after a few days.

He has reason to be concerned. One or two concussions over time may not cause any lingering problems. But repeated blows to the head, even over years, have been linked to very serious brain damage.

Fortunately, scientists are tapping into technology, to visually tell you if a concussion has been sustained. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are developing a color strip to attach to helmets. This strip will change color, depending on how hard it was hit.

The strip uses something called "structural color." It's similar to the iridescent color of a butterfly's wing, where you see different colors, based on how you're looking at it.

The University of Pennsylvania's structural color strip will change color based on the strength of the hit. Their goal is to take that a step further, by creating a strip that will predict if a concussion occurred.

That technology, while promising, is still being developed. Still, there is more good news when it comes to concussions. The NFL and General Electric are funding research studies, to develop blood tests and medical imaging that will definitively show if someone has suffered a concussion.

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