If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic brain injury, it is important to have your hearing health evaluated. Over three million head injuries occur every year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) is the most severe type of head injury. It is estimated that 1 in 3 head injuries is a TBI. Studies show that TBIs can cause hearing related issues including hearing loss.
Hearing loss is one of the most common medical conditions people live with today. Nearly 1 in 6 have some degree of impaired hearing. Hearing loss reduces a person’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. This produces a range of symptoms that take a toll on communication. Hearing loss and strained communication can significantly affect everyday life and wellness by straining communication, relationships, social life, and increasing health risks. Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated that transforms hearing health.
Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries
Head injuries range from mild forms like concussions to more profound, known as traumatic brain injuries. A TBI involves trauma to the head which impairs the brain and cognitive functions. TBIs are typically caused by car and bike accidents, injuries from contact sports, and falls. Blunt trauma to the head causes the brain to run up against the skull and for it to shake. This can lead to various injuries including: swelling, bruising, hemorrhaging, contusions etc.which can cause cell damage and chemical changes.
Link Between TBIs & Hearing Loss
TBIs can affect hearing health in several ways. It is first helpful to understand the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing. The auditory system involves the ears and brain which work together to process sound. This process includes:
- Outer ear: the most visible part of the ear (the outer cartilage) absorbs soundwaves from the environment. These soundwaves travel down the ear canal and land on the eardrum.
- Middle ear: the movement of the eardrum activates the ossicles which are three tiny bones that are connected. This engagement helps push soundwaves into the inner ear.
- Inner ear: the cochlea consists of thousands of sensory cells which help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals then get sent to the brain via the auditory nerve.
There are specific portions of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. These areas receive signals from the inner ear and continue processing them which involves assigning meaning, allowing us to understand what we hear.
TBIs can damage several of these components, disrupting this process. A few ways TBIs can lead to problems in this hearing process includes:
- Taring the eardrum, causing blood to accumulate in the middle ear.
- Damaging or dislodging the ossicles bones.
- Producing a bone fracture that affects the auditory nerve
- Damaging the sensory cells in the inner ear.
These effects prevent these components from performing their essential functions and causing hearing loss.
There are a number of hearing related symptoms that TBIs can trigger. This includes the following:
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears. More than half of TBI patients develop tinnitus.
- Noise sensitivity
- Difficulty hearing specific sounds.
- Aural fullness (feeling sense of fullness in the ears).
- Hearing loss
In addition to these symptoms, TBIs can also impact balance. The sensory systems for hearing and balance are both in the inner ear. So TBIs can not only impair hearing but also balance. These symptoms may include: dizziness, vertigo, motion sickness, unsteadiness, and difficulty maintaining balance. Experiencing these symptoms can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, strain communication, and impact health and wellness.
Treating Hearing Related TBI Issues
If you’ve experienced a TBI, it is important to have your hearing health evaluated by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures your hearing capacities and identifies your hearing needs. TBI related hearing issues can be treated in a few ways depending on what the underlying cause is:
- A perforated eardrum typically heals on its own in 6-8 weeks.
- Damaged or dislodged ossicles can be corrected through surgery.
- Damaged sensory cells in the inner ear are irreparable but typically treated with hearing aids.
Contact us to learn more about TBI related hearing health issues and to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.