Head Injuries & Hearing Loss

Man with concussion, head injury. His head is bandaged

Did you know that head injuries can cause hearing loss? Hearing loss is a permanent medical condition that reduces the capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is the third most common health issue that people experience today. Nearly 1 in 5 people have some degree of hearing impairment. Most forms of hearing loss that people experience today are permanent, so doing everything you can to protect your hearing is important.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that over 3 million head injuries occur every year. Head injuries can range from mild (concussions) to severe (traumatic brain injuries). According to the CDC, 1 million head injuries (or 1 in 3)are traumatic brain injuries. Head injuries can affect health and wellness in significant ways, including by causing hearing loss. It is important to be aware of this risk and to practice preventative safety measures.

Impact of Head Injuries 

Head injuries can significantly impact health, mobility, and wellness. Head injuries involve brute force to the head, which shakes the brain as it brushes up against the skull. This can result in different reactions including hemorrhaging, bruising, swelling, etc. which produce various symposiums including:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Dizziness, balance issues, and vertigo
  • Noise and light sensitivities
  • Tinnitus: a ringing, buzzing, or clicking-like noise in one or both ears
  • Trouble identifying the direction of sound (sound localization)

In addition to these symptoms, head injuries can have chronic effects on health by causing:

  • Difficulty maintaining or initiating sleep and other sleep disorders
  • Personality and behavioral challenges like mood swings, depressive symptoms, social withdrawal, etc.
  • Mobility issues
  • Challenges with cognitive functions (decision-making, communication, memory)

Head injuries can also impact the auditory system, which is the sensory system for hearing.

Link Between Head Injuries and Hearing Loss 

The auditory system includes the ears and brain, which work together to absorb and process sound. This complex system involves the following components:

  • Outer ear: the most visible part of the ear absorbs soundwaves from the environment, and these soundwaves travel through the ear canal before landing on the eardrum.
  • Middle ear: movement of the eardrum activates the ossicles, three connected bones, which help propel soundwaves to the inner ear. 
  • Inner ear: there are thousands of sensory cells in the cochlea. These cells convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals that get sent to the brain.

The brain receives auditory signals and further processes them, which includes assigning meaning, allowing us to understand what we hear.

Head injuries can disrupt this process in a few ways. A head injury involves impact to the head and this can damage the ossicles, rupture the eardrum, damage hair cells in the cochlea, restrict blood flow in the ears, etc. This damages integral components of the auditory system and impacts sound waves being absorbed and processed effectively.

Tips to Protect Hearing Health

It is important to practice ways to protect your hearing health. This is especially important for groups that experience a higher risk of experiencing a head injury. This includes men (ages 15-35), people who play contact sports, people who engage in activities like bike riding, and older adults who are disproportionately impacted by hearing loss and experience a higher risk of falling. A few tips to protect your hearing health include:

  1. Wear protective gear: this includes a seatbelt, which offers protection while driving in a car. It is also critical to wear a helmet when riding a bike or playing contact sports, which are common ways people experience head injuries.
  2. Wear hearing aids: if you have hearing loss, wearing hearing aids during waking hours is necessary. Hearing aids maximize your hearing capacity, allowing you to hear better in everyday environments. This increases spatial awareness and safety, decreasing the risk of a fall and head injury.
  3. Test hearing regularly: Another useful tip is to test your hearing regularly. A hearing test involves a painless process that measures your hearing capacities in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment you could be experiencing. Getting your hearing tested regularly allows you to track your hearing health over time and catch (and address) any changes you may experience.

Contact us today to learn more about hearing loss and head injuries. We can also get a hearing consultation appointment scheduled for you so that you can have your hearing health comprehensively evaluated.

Kenneth H. Wood, BC-HIS

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