US Department of Defense
Advancing Blast Injury Research to Protect and Heal Those Who Serve

Sensory Sensitivity in Veterans with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Most Service members who experience a combat-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) will make a complete recovery within the days and weeks following injury; however, a portion of these Service members continue to report chronic postconcussive symptoms for years following the initial TBI. Diagnosis of Postconcussive Syndrome (PCS) remains a challenge due to the heterogeneous symptoms reported as well as the substantial overlap between symptoms associated with PCS and those associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders. This overlap includes cognitive, neuropsychological, and sensory symptoms. Although a great deal of research has focused on the associations between TBI, cognitive, and neuropsychological symptoms, so far only limited research has focused on the sensory symptoms following TBI.

To address this question, researchers at the VA Portland Health Care System conducted a study to examine factors associated with noise and light sensitivity among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans who have a history of self-reported mild TBI (mTBI) due to blast exposure. Researchers used a series of self-reported symptom questionnaires and neuropsychological tests to determine the association between sensory sensitivity and PTSD, depression, and somatization symptoms.

Researchers noted that Veterans with a history of mTBI reported increased noise and light sensitivity compared to those without a history of mTBI. Furthermore, they found that noise and light sensitivity were correlated with PTSD and somatization symptoms, but only noise sensitivity was additionally correlated with symptoms of depression. After controlling for symptoms of psychological distress, there remained a unique relationship between sensory sensitivity and mTBI. Their findings suggest that while psychological distress is significantly associated with the complaints of noise and light sensitivity, it may not fully account for the experience of sensory sensitivity in a population with mTBI history. Although additional work is needed to fully understand the complex interactions between TBI, sensory sensitivity, and psychological distress, this study provides initial ground work for advances in the assessment and treatment of TBI.

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Callahan ML, Binder LM, O’Neil ME, Zaccari B, Roost MS, Golshan S, Huckans M, Fann JR, and Storzbach D. (2018). Sensory sensitivity in operation enduring freedom/operation Iraqi freedom veterans with and without blast exposure and mild traumatic brain injury. Applied Neuropsychology: Adult, 25:2, 126-136, DOI: 10.1080/23279095.2016.1261867.

Last modified: 06-Mar-2018