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The answer to treating concussions may be found...in your mouth

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HERSHEY, Pa. (WHP) - As more information is revealed about concussions and the effects they can have long-term, one doctor at Penn State Hershey Medical Center made a discovery about how concussions may soon be treated in the short-term. As it turns out, saliva may be the key.

Just swabbing your cheek for 10 to 15 seconds may give doctors, coaches and parents the opportunity to diagnose a concussion and predict the forthcoming symptoms of a head injury in just a few minutes.

Whether it's soccer, football or any other sport, these days the talk surrounding athletics is all about concussions.


"We see it in every sport. Oddly enough one of the ones we see it the most often is in cheerleading," Red Lion Athletic Director Arnie Fritzius.

Arnie Fritzius is the athletic director for Red Lion School District. He says right now student athletes grades seven and up are tested for concussions with a survey, or what doctors call a SCAT test. But researchers with Penn State Hershey Medical Center hope that's about to change.

"We found pretty quickly that people are hesitant to let you stick a needle in their arm for an experiment. Most people are willing to spit in a cup though, especially kids," said Penn State Hershey Medical Center Pediatrics Assistant Professor Dr. Steve Hicks.

In that saliva, he says, are molecules called micro RNA's that can help diagnose concussions and predict how long someone might experience symptoms from them.

"We found that the original scat scores were about 65% accurate at predicting who would have symptoms a month after their injury," said Dr. Hicks.

But micro RNA's in saliva were about 85% accurate. All it takes is a 10 to 15 second cheek swab and a balance test. He says analysis of the spit takes no longer than 24 hours.

"That would be major because right now we don’t really have any concrete way of knowing how the impact of the concussion is going to affect the kids," said Fritzius.

This discovery is in the early stages, and it only included 52 children. But Dr. Hicks hopes with more testing, a simple cheek swab will become commonplace with concussion diagnoses within the next two years.

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