Head Injuries & Hearing Loss
A common misconception is that only older adults are impacted by hearing loss. While aging is a common cause of impaired hearing, there are several factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss. Head injuries are an often underrecognized cause of hearing loss, one that is actually experienced more by younger adults. Learning more about this risk factor and taking the steps to be as safe as possible can significantly protect your hearing health.
How common are head injuries?
Head injuries are likely more common than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 3 million head injuries every year! Head injuries occur from extreme trauma to the head which can range from mild to severe. Concussions are a common mild form of head trauma and the most profound is traumatic brain injuries. According to the CDC, at least 1 million head injuries that happen annually are traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The most common causes of head injuries are falls, car accidents, and being hit in the head by an object (usually from playing sports).
Impact of Head Injuries
To understand how head injuries can impact hearing health, it is useful to know the impact of a head injury. Extreme force to the head shakes up the brain, causing it to brush up against the skull. This can lead to various injuries including: swelling, bruising, hemorrhaging, contusions etc. which produce various symptoms including the following:
Sensitivity to noise and light
Tinnitus (buzzing or ringing noise in the ears)
Trouble identifying where sound is coming from (known as sound localization)
Depending on the severity of the head injury, symptoms can be longer lasting. Chronic symptoms include:
Issues with sleep, sleep disorders
Challenges with mobility
Personality changes (mood swings, social withdrawal, depressive symptoms etc.)
Strained cognitive capacities (decision making, memory, communication etc.)
In addition to these symptoms, head injuries can also contribute to hearing loss.
Link Between Head Injuries & Hearing Loss
Head injuries can contribute to hearing loss in a few ways. Trauma to the head can damage the auditory system is the sensory system that manages hearing. This includes:
Outer ear: consists of the most visible part of the ear (the outer cartilage) which absorbs sound waves from the environment. Soundwaves travel through the ear canal and land on the eardrum.
Middle ear: vibrations from the eardrum activate the ossicles - three, tiny bones that are connected - which help push soundwaves further into the inner ear.
Inner ear: thousands of hair cells in the cochlea help convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals.
Electrical signals get carried to the brain - via the auditory nerve - where they are further processed. The brain assigns meaning to these signals which enables us to understand what we hear.
Head injuries can affect this process in various ways that contribute to or cause hearing loss. Trauma to the head can damage several of the auditory system’s components - ossicles, tear the eardrum, restrict blood flow, damage the hair cells in the inner ear etc. This prevents soundwaves from being absorbed and processed effectively, contributing to hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Your Hearing Health
There are several tips you can integrate to protect your hearing health. A few simple tips include the following:
Test hearing: this is especially important if you’ve experienced a head injury. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures hearing capacities in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment that you could be experiencing. Once your hearing needs are established, your hearing healthcare provider is able to recommend treatment options to effectively meet those needs. Having your hearing evaluated is a great way to track your hearing health.
Wear protective gear: sports and car accidents are common ways people experience head injuries. Wearing protective gear while engaged in these activities is a great way to prevent or reduce the impact of injury. Be sure to wear a helmet while playing sports or signing a bike as well as wearing a seat belt while driving.
Wear hearing aids: if you have diagnosed hearing loss, it is important to always wear your hearing aids. These innovative devices provide ample hearing support in all environments which increases spatial awareness and safety.
Contact us today to learn more about protecting your hearing health. We can also schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.