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Head Injuries and Hearing Loss

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Estimates show that every year in the United States alone, more than one million traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) require hospitalization and as many as three million head injuries, including mild concussions. 

People who survive serious head injuries may have problems for the rest of their lives, and people who have less severe injuries may have problems for a few days, weeks, or even longer. One of these side effects is temporary or long-term hearing loss. 

What are the main reasons why people get head injuries?

According to the CDC, falls lead to nearly half of all TBI-related hospitalizations. Falls hurt the elderly and very young the most. Head injuries, both serious and minor, are also often caused by car accidents and sports injuries.

Males between the ages of 15 and 35 are most likely to get a traumatic brain injury because they are more likely to take risks and play contact sports. As more is learned about the long-term effects of sports-related concussions, health experts emphasize the need to take more care of people who have had these injuries.

Here are some facts about head injuries:

A bump, blow, or jolt to the head can cause a concussion, which is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). 
A concussion can also be caused by a sudden, violent movement or jolt to the head or neck or by a sound blast that is so loud that it damages the brain.
The main problem with a mild concussion is that it bruises the brain. But in moderate to severe cases, bleeding can also happen in the brain.
Sports injuries, bicycle and car accidents, and falls are the most common ways that people get concussions.
People who have had one concussion are more likely to get another one.

A concussion is not a life-threatening injury; most people get better quickly. However, it can cause serious side effects, such as hearing loss.

Traumatic brain injuries and how they affect your hearing

Traumatic brain injury can cause several ear problems, such as hearing loss, dizziness, vertigo, and ringing in the ears.

Due to how quickly and violently the injury happened, a head injury may damage the way the ears work. Any place between the brain's outer ear and the auditory cortex can be damaged. So, there isn't just one hearing loss after a TBI. Instead, several complicated symptoms can be challenging for the injured person to deal with.

Even a mild injury like a concussion can damage the ear or change the way the ear sends sound to the brain. Some of these changes can be changed back, but others can't. Some of these changes include a torn eardrum, damage to the small bones of the middle ear, damage to the tissues and membranes of the inner ear, and a stop in the blood flow to the cochlear nerve. The hair cells inside the eye are especially likely to get hurt.

Any of the above changes can cause hearing loss. If the eardrum bursts, you will lose your hearing for a short time. However, you may lose your hearing if the hair cells are damaged.

When a person gets a severe blow to the head, the parts of the brain that handle processing may also be hurt.

Signs of ear damage caused by a TBI

Traumatic brain injury can also cause damage to the ears, which can lead to dizziness and vertigo. People with TBI are thought to feel dizzy 40–60% of the time. Vertigo, tinnitus, chronic nausea, and headaches are also signs of vestibular problems.

Auditory symptoms may include: 

  • Trouble understanding speech, especially when there is noise in the background
  • Trouble locating sounds
  • Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears with no external source)
  • Extreme sensitivity to sounds
  • Conductive hearing loss

Treating and rehabilitating people with hearing loss 
caused by a TBI is a complicated but essential process. It will take time, and audiologists and other health care professionals will need to help.

If you or someone you care about has had a traumatic brain injury and you are worried about hearing loss, there are things you can do. Making an appointment for a hearing test is the first thing to do. Don't delay.