Hearing Loss & Traumatic Brain Injury: Is There A Connection?
Research shows that there is a connection between traumatic brain injuries and hearing loss. A traumatic brain injury is a type of head injury that impacts how the brain works. An estimated three million head injuries occur annually, and 1 in 3 of these injuries is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Head injuries range from mild forms which are concussions, to the most severe form which is a TBI. This can affect physical health, mobility, and cognitive functions in major ways. TBIs can also cause hearing loss, a medical condition that reduces one’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound.
Understanding How We Hear
To understand how TBIs can cause hearing loss and hearing related issues, it is useful to know more about how we hear. The auditory system is the sensory system for hearing and includes the ears and brain which absorb and process the sound we hear. This includes:
Outer ear: the outer, most visible part of the ear absorbs sound waves from the environment. These soundwaves travel through the ear canal and land on the eardrum.
Middle ear: the movement of the eardrum activities the ossicles which are three bones (among the smallest in the body) that are connected. This activity helps propel the soundwaves further into the inner ear.
Inner ear: the cochlea consists of sensory cells that help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals.
These signals get carried to the brain, via the auditory nerve. The brain then continues processing this information, assigning meaning to these signals which allows us to understand what we hear.
Link Between TBIs & Hearing Loss
A TBI involves a blow, jolt, or extreme force to the head. This causes the brain to shake and run up against the skull. This can lead to swelling, bruising, hemorrhaging, contusions etc., causing damage and chemical changes. This trauma can also damage critical components of the auditory system. A few ways this can happen 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.
This prevents soundwaves from being absorbed and processed effectively. TBIs can also damage areas of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information and this can cause hearing loss as well.
Impact of TBIs on Hearing Health
The effects of TBIs on hearing health can cause difficulties hearing, hearing loss, and various symptoms. This includes:
Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing noise in one or both ears. More than half of TBI patients develop tinnitus.
Sensitivity to noise and/or loudness.
Struggling to hear specific sounds.
Sounds are distorted or muffled.
These symptoms can be mild to more severe, impacting communication. Symptoms can take a toll on communication which is an essential way we navigate everyday life. This can affect relationships, social engagement, mental health, and increased health risks. If you’ve experienced a TBI, it is important to have your hearing health evaluated.
Treating TBI Related Hearing Issues
There are a few ways TBI related hearing issues are treated. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and can include:
A tare in the eardrum usually heals on its own in 6-8 weeks.
If the ossicles become dislodged, this can be repaired through surgery.
Damaged sensory cells in the inner ear are usually treated with hearing aids.
If sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged, this produces permanent hearing loss. Hearing aids are an effective solution that alleviate symptoms and maximize one’s capacity to hear.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are a few ways you can reduce your risk of experiencing a TBI. This includes:
1. Wear protective gear: this includes a helmet while riding a bike or playing sports, a seatbelt while driving, and other protective gear while engaging in physical activities.
2. Wear hearing aids: if you have hearing loss, be sure to always wear your hearing aids. This increases your spatial awareness and safety, reducing the risk of falls and accidental injuries.
3. Test hearing regularly: get a hearing test regularly which allows you to monitor your hearing health and catch (and treat) any symptoms you may experience over time.
Contact us today to learn more about how TBIs can impact hearing health and to
schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.