Could a saliva test one day diagnose concussion?

LONE TREE, Colo. - A saliva test could one day be able to diagnose a concussion and predict the length of symptoms in kids.

“That would be amazing,” said Sheree Mullen of Castle Rock.

Her teenage son, Tyler, has had multiple concussions from football, and the last was the most severe. “When he came off the field, he didn’t know who he was.  He didn’t know where he was,” she said.

But other times, his diagnoses have been uncertain. “They said we think he had a concussion, but we’re not positive,” Mullen said.

That’s why a saliva test could be such a game changer. Right now there is no x-ray, or scan that can diagnose a concussion.

“The objective measure of concussion is what we need,” said Dr. Brooke Pengel, Board Certified Pediatric Sports Medicine Specialist with Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.  She says to diagnose a concussion, doctors have to ask a series of questions about symptoms and the injury.

The spit test would measure certain molecules in the saliva. “It will be more cut and dry. Either the brain cell was injured, and it released these molecules into the blood stream and the saliva, or it didn’t,” Dr. Pengel said.

The saliva test could also potentially predict how long the symptoms will last. “It could perhaps ease anxiety for a family,” she said. “This is objective, and it actually lends itself to a good tool that can be used in the office, potentially on the sideline.”

The study was published this week in the JAMA Pediatrics. But doctors warn the sample size was small and more research is needed.