Newswise — LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 18, 2014) – Two researchers from the University of Kentucky have demonstrated a connection between sensitivity to light or noise and increased emotional symptoms in teens who have suffered a concussion.

Lisa Koehl, MS, a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky's department of Psychology, and Dan Han, PsyD, a University of Kentucky assistant professor of Neurology, presented their findings at the American Academy of Neurology's Sports Concussion Conference in Chicago earlier this month.

The study involved 37 athletes age 12 to 17 who had persisting symptoms for an average of 37 days following a concussion. Han and Koehl examined these teens for post-concussion changes in physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms over time.

Koehl and Han determined that teens who are sensitive to light or noise after a concussion may also be more likely to have emotional symptoms, including irritability, aggression, anxiety, depression, apathy, frequent mood changes or excessive emotional reactions.

“While most people recover from a concussion within a week, a number of factors affect their recovery, and studies have shown that teenage athletes may take up to seven to 10 days longer to recover than older athletes,” said Koehl.

"Identifying factors that affect a teen's experience after concussion may help in planning for the appropriate treatment and in making decisions about when to return to play and what accommodations are needed at school.”

Of the 37 study participants, 22 teens demonstrated post-concussive emotional symptoms. Of those, 23 percent were sensitive to light while 14 percent were sensitive to noise. In comparison, of the 15 teens without emotional symptoms 13 percent were sensitive to light and no teens were sensitive to noise.

There were no differences between the two groups in factors such as what percentage experienced loss of consciousness, amnesia, nausea and/or headaches, indicating that the groups were likely comparable in the level of severity of concussion.

According to Han, having a family history of psychiatric problems did not make teens any more or less likely to have emotional symptoms after a concussion.

"Teens who had anxiety were 55 percent more likely to self-report attention difficulties than those without anxiety, while teens with irritability/aggression were 35 percent more likely to self-report problems with attention than teens without irritability," said Han. "While these findings are preliminary and require a larger sample size to predict outcomes with more confidence, we are intrigued by the potential these data offer in terms of providing teens with a better treatment plan based on their unique cognitive, physical and emotional response to concussion."

The American College of Sports Medicine Research Foundation supported the study.

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AAN meeting, July 2014