One of the most pervasive misconceptions about hearing loss is that the primary causes are aging and loud noise. While these are common causes, hearing can also be impaired by a range of other factors including head injuries. Head injuries are more common than you may think and can lead to permanent conditions like hearing loss, a chronic medical condition that reduces the capacity to detect and process sound.
Prevalence of Head Injuries
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are nearly 3 million head injuries every year! At least 1 million of these are traumatic brain injuries which are the most severe form that can have significant effects on overall health. Head injuries occur from trauma to the head which can range from mild to severe – concussions being more mild and traumatic brain injuries being profound. Common causes of head injuries include: falls, car accidents, and being struck by an object.
When the head experiences such force, it shakes the brain against the walls of the skull. This shaking and running up against the walls of the skull is what produces the injury. It can lead to bruising, hemorrhaging, swelling, contusions etc. This can produce various symptoms including the following:
- Dizzy spells and vertigo
- Nausea, chronic migraines
- Tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ears, which is a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears
- Difficulty with sound localization – understanding where sounds are coming from
In addition to these symptoms, head injuries can have long-lasting consequences such as:
- Issues with mobility
- Sleep disorders like insomnia
- Reducing cognitive capacities that include the ability to remember, make decisions, reading, writing, communication, etc.
- Personality changes: mood swings, depression, anxiety, increased social isolation, etc.
In addition to these health complications, head injuries can also lead to hearing loss – a permanent medical condition that reduces the ability to hear and process sound.
Head Injuries & Hearing Loss
Experiencing physical trauma to the head area can damage components of the auditory system which is the sensory system for hearing. Brusinging, swelling, and bleeding can damage parts of the ears and brain that are critical for the process of hearing. This includes:
- Outer ear: the outer cartilage, ear canal, and eardrum.
- Middle ear: the ossicles – three connected bones, amongst the smallest in the body.
- Inner ear: consists of the cochlea which is filled with thousands of hair cells.
The outer ear collects and absorbs soundwaves from the environment which travel through the ear canal and land on the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. This activates the ossicles which help propel the sound waves further into the inner ear. The hair cells in the cochlea convert the soundwaves into electrical pulses that get sent to the brain to be further processed. The brain is then able to assign meaning to the sound which is what allows us to understand what we hear.
Head injuries can disrupt this process by damaging several of these necessary components. Head injuries can tear the eardrum, impact the ossicles, irreparably damage the hair cells in the inner ear, constrict blood flow in the ears, etc. This kind of damage obstructs sound, preventing soundwaves from being fully processed which produces hearing loss.
Protecting Your Hearing Health
If you have experienced a head injury, even if it was mild, it is important to have your hearing assessed as soon as possible. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any impairment and establishes your hearing needs. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are devices that help detect and process sound, maximum hearing capacity.
Hearing aids transform hearing health as well as offer countless life-changing benefits: strengthening relationships, enhancing social life, and improving overall health.
In addition to having your hearing tested, other ways you can protect your hearing health include:
- Wearing protective gear while playing sports, riding bikes, driving, etc. Wearing helmets and other protective wear is an incredibly important safety measure that reduces your risk of experiencing a traumatic injury.
- Wear hearing aids that increase spatial awareness and enable people to better hear warning signs, detect hazards in their environment, and navigate with greater clarity.
If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, we’re here to help. Call us today to schedule your hearing consultation!