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Akron Children's Hospital study finds cooling treatment reduces youth concussion symptoms

Akron Children's Hospital researchers, in collaboration with researchers at Dayton Children's, Cincinnati Children's and the University of Michigan, have found that cooling therapy can reduce concussion symptoms in youth by up to 25%.

Study participants who were treated using a device that cooled their head and neck had better outcomes when compared to those receiving standard concussion care of controlled and gradual introduction of daily activity and nonstrenuous exercise, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. The study was published online in January, but the results were not formally announced until April 2.

Researchers found that of 167 concussion patients ages 12 to 19, those using a pro2cool device had a 14% improvement in symptoms after one treatment and a 25% improvement after two treatments over standard types of care. The study followed a pilot assessment of the device that included 80 patients.

The study is the first to test this technology on pediatric concussion patients, according to Dr. Matt Smith, staff scientist at Akron Children's.

There has not been much previous attention to youth concussion treatments, said Dr. Joseph Congeni, director of sports medicine at Akron Children's and lead study investigator at Akron Children's Rebecca D. Considine Research Institute.

"That is something that just has not been done in the literature very often, so we really wanted to emphasize younger concussion patients," he said, adding that the research results are promising.

"We only did two treatments, but still, even with two treatments, we saw a pretty significant positive effect on these kids, on the average, 25% drop in symptoms," he said.

The cooling device, pro2cool, is the first tool that actually treats concussion, Congeni added.

"Typically, the treatment of concussion has been addressed and just follow-up and see how people do, and there really wasn't any sort of device or other treatment," he explained.

The device uses a chilling unit and a head and neck wrap to provide localized cooling to those parts of the body after a concussion in a non-invasive way. While the academic literature points to the benefits resulting from either reducing inflammation or lowering metabolic rates, there is no consensus at this point, Congeni said.

He noted that focusing on younger athletes is important because the impact of a concussion can be different for this population, adding that younger athletes can present symptoms that are "more dramatic and symptomatic" than adults.

There are also additional factors to consider when it comes to youth, including how long it takes them to catch up in school after their injury, added Tamara Murray, an Akron Children's pediatric nurse.

"With children, you're looking at not just their athletics, you're also looking at the academic piece as well," Murray said. “It would be lovely if we could get them back even sooner, not only just to their sports, but their academics as well."

Congeni said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now reviewing the cooling device to decide whether to approve it for concussion treatment. An FDA decision could come in May or June this year, he said.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.