Miami-Dade County

NFL and UM team up to create ‘concussion goggles’

These concussion goggles, being developed by University of Miami Dr. Michael Hoffer, can be used to detect head injuries on the playing field or in battle. With a better indication of injury, doctors can decide when a soldier or player should be sidelined or return to action.
These concussion goggles, being developed by University of Miami Dr. Michael Hoffer, can be used to detect head injuries on the playing field or in battle. With a better indication of injury, doctors can decide when a soldier or player should be sidelined or return to action. Photo Courtesy Neuro Kinetics

Coming to a stadium near you soon: concussion goggles.

Struggling to better understand and diagnose the head injuries of its players, the National Football League, along with Under Armour and GE, awarded $500,000 on Thursday to a University of Miami physician — and former battlefield doctor — working on “goggles” to detect head injuries. The grant is part of a $60million research effort launched by the league last year to prevent, measure and detect brain injury after 5,000 former players sued.

The goggles are the work of Michael Hoffer, an otolaryngologist at the university’s Miller School of Medicine and former U.S. Navy captain who developed the technology while stationed in San Diego and during two tours of duty in Iraq. Now he’s ready to field test them.

“Knowing they work in the lab is great. But making sure they work well … near the playing field is a critical step,” said Hoffer, who retired from the military in September after serving two decades.

In recent years, the NFL has had to tackle the issue of head injury as research increasingly tied football to long-term head injuries. In 2009, league officials first acknowledged the connection. Players then sued. This year, in a report done to determine a settlement, the league’s own actuaries predicted one in three players will suffer long-term cognitive problems.

Actuaries also predicted symptoms would begin to emerge at a younger age.

The goggles work by measuring a patient’s balance and will be tested on UM athletes beginning in the spring, Hoffer said.

Hoffer, who has studied nearly 4,000 soldiers with head injuries, said dizziness is almost always a symptom. But asking a soldier or player to quantify dizziness can be tricky.

“The problem with a head injury is people want to pretend they don’t have one,” he said.

Hoffer and colleagues at Neuro Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based company that worked with NASA in the 1970s, developed technology that allowed them to detect head trauma, even in those with minor symptoms. By strapping a patient into a chair, doctors could conduct about 40 different tests including filming a patient’s eyes. The device proved 95 percent accurate, he said. But there was a problem: it wasn’t portable. In battle and in sports, physicians need to be able to assess an injury fast and on the field to determine whether a soldier or player needs to be sidelined.

So Hoffman and his researchers extracted a handful of tests needed to give a preliminary diagnosis and fit them into the boxy goggles. The goggles will also allow doctors to make an ongoing assessment to determine when a soldier or athlete can return to action.

“That’s really a difficult task,” he said. “With the goggles, you can determine when balance returns.”

In addition to using UM athletes, Hoffer expects to expand testing to other teams in the university’s Atlantic Coast Conference. The goggles will also be field-tested on soldiers in California and Texas. Whether the goggles turn up on the sidelines or are used in the locker room will be up to coaches, he said.

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