Head Injuries & Hearing Loss

How exactly do head injuries affect the sense of hearing?

Head Injuries & Hearing Loss

Head Injuries & Hearing Loss

In the United States alone, estimates suggest that over one million cases of traumatic brain injury each year require hospitalization, and as many as 3 million cases of any head injury, including mild concussions. Survivors of severe head injuries may suffer permanent, lifelong effects, and those whose injuries are milder may experience adverse side effects that last days, weeks, or longer. Hearing loss, either temporary or permanent, is one of those side effects. 

Primary causes of head injuries

According to the CDC, falls were the leading cause of traumatic brain injury in the U.S., accounting for half of TBI (traumatic brain injury) E.R. visits. This is especially true for young children and adults over 65. Motor vehicle accidents and assaults are also significant causes of head trauma, both serious and minor.

The risk of traumatic brain injury in males is highest between 15-35 years old, a likely cause being their greater tendency to engage in risk-taking behavior and contact sports. As more is discovered about the lasting consequences of sports-induced concussions, health experts are stressing the need for more care to be taken with those who have sustained these injuries.

Some facts about concussions:

  • A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a head bump, blow, or jolt. Trauma can also be caused by violent movement or jarring of the head or neck or as a result of a sound blast, in which the pressure of the noise is so loud that it causes brain damage.
  • The primary injury in a mild concussion is a contusion (bruising) of the brain. But in moderate to severe cases, brain hemorrhaging (bleeding) can also occur.
  • The most common causes of concussions are sports injuries, bicycle/car accidents, and falls.
  • People who have already sustained one concussion tend to be more susceptible to having another.
  • Although a concussion is not a life-threatening injury and people generally recover quickly, it can cause severe symptoms, including hearing loss.

Traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and their effects on the hearing

Traumatic brain injury can result in a variety of problems related to the ear, including hearing loss, dizziness, vertigo, and tinnitus.

Because of the sudden and violent nature of the injury, head trauma may cause damage to the auditory pathway. The damage can occur at any point between the brain's outer ear and the auditory cortex. Therefore, there is not one specific type of hearing loss that occurs with TBI, but rather a variety of complex symptoms that can be challenging for the injured person to cope with.

Even an injury as mild as a concussion can cause damage within the ear or changes in the auditory pathway to the brain. These changes can include a ruptured eardrum, damage to the small bones of the middle ear, damage to the tissues and membranes of the inner ear, and disruption of blood flow to the cochlear nerve. The hair cells of the inner are particularly vulnerable to damage as well. While some of these changes are reversible, others are not.

Any of the above changes to the ears can result in hearing loss. While a ruptured eardrum will result in short-term hearing loss, damage to the hair cells may cause permanent loss.

In severe head trauma, the parts of the brain responsible for processing may also be disrupted.

Symptoms of TBI-related ear damage

Dizziness and vertigo are common symptoms associated with damage to the ears from traumatic brain injury. Dizziness is believed to occur in 40 to 60 percent of people with TBI. Other vestibular symptoms include vertigo, tinnitus, chronic nausea, and headache.

Auditory symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty understanding speech, especially when there is background noise
  • Difficulty locating sounds (knowing where they are coming from)
  • Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears with no external source)
  • Hyperacusis (extreme sensitivity to sounds)
  • Conductive or sensorineural hearing loss

Treatment of hearing loss when you have TBI

Treatment for hearing loss caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) typically involves a combination of medical and rehabilitative approaches. The specific treatment plan will depend on the severity of the hearing loss and the underlying cause of the TBI.

Hearing aids can be an essential part of recovery for individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and have hearing loss. Here's how hearing aids can help:

Improved communication: Hearing aids can amplify sounds and make them easier to hear, improving communication and making it easier for individuals with TBI to participate in conversations and social situations.

Increased independence: Hearing aids can help individuals with TBI become more independent by allowing them to communicate more effectively with others and access information and resources.

Enhanced quality of life: Hearing aids can improve the overall quality of life by reducing the negative impact of hearing loss on social interactions and daily activities.

If you or a loved one has experienced a TBI and is experiencing hearing loss, it's crucial to seek a hearing consultation to determine the best course of treatment. Don't let hearing loss hold you back – a hearing consultation with us at Greentree Audiology can help you find the right solution to get you or your loved one’s life back on track. 

John Scarlas was born in Tampa, Florida and raised in Beckley, West Virginia. He received his Bachelor of Science from West Virginia University in 1995, and he received his Master’s degree in Audiology from Towson University in 1997.

Doctor of Audiology
Sherry Pickett, Doctor of Audiology
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