How Do Head Injuries Impact Hearing and Balance?

Each year, 1.5 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to CDC estimates. The CDC notes that TBIs are the leading cause of death in children and young adults in the US. It’s estimated that in the US, 5.3 million people are living with a permanent TBI-related injury.

A TBI is caused by a violent blow or jolt to your head or body. TBIs can also be the result of exposure to a violent event like a gunshot wound or an explosion.

The Mayoclinic defines a concussion as: “a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.”

Survivors of a traumatic brain injury can suffer lifelong effects from the TBI. Others may experience side effects that can last days, weeks or sometimes even longer. Hearing loss and balance problems are one potential side effect of a head injury.

Common Causes of Head Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries are a common injury in military veterans and service members. However, there are many causes for TBIs. The most common causes of a TBI include:

  • Falls
  • Firearm-related injury
  • Car accident

1.6 million TBIs are the result of contact sports, car accidents and recreational activities, the CDC estimates. Up to 50% of these injuries involve tinnitus or hearing loss.

How are Your Hearing and a Head Injury Connected?

Our ability to hear is dependent on our brains. Understanding the close relationship between our ears and our brains helps to highlight how a head injury can impact your hearing.

How Do You Hear?

Sounds are invisible vibrations that travel through the air. Think of the sounds you can hear at the moment; maybe it’s music in the background, or the wind in the trees outside, or even traffic in the streets. Each sound creates a sound wave that sends vibrations in all directions. Most sound waves are unique, which is why people, animals and things will sound different.

When sound waves hit your ear, the pinna on either side of your head funnels the sounds into your ear canals. The unique sound waves will cause your eardrum to vibrate. These vibrations then move the ossicles in your middle ear. This movement helps to transmit the sound vibrations into the cochlea of your inner ear.

These soundwaves are then converted into electrical pulses that travel along the auditory nerve into your brain. It is at this point that the pulses are converted into ‘sound’ that we can understand. This entire process takes fractions of a second!

How Do Head Injuries Impact Hearing and Balance?

A head injury can cause a number of problems relating to our ears. These could include:

The violent nature of a head injury can result in damage to our auditory pathway. Unfortunately, the symptoms may not immediately appear. In some cases, the results of a TBI don’t manifest until years after the initial accident.

Symptoms To Watch Out For

The more commonly reported hearing and balance related symptoms that people report after a head injury include:

  • Difficulty processing auditory information, especially when there is background noise present
  • Difficulty locating where sounds are coming from
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Vertigo and/or nausea
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to certain frequencies and volume ranges of sound)
  • Sensorineural or conductive hearing loss

Need Help? Contact Us Today!

If you or a loved one have experienced a head injury either recently or in the past, monitor your hearing. If you notice changes to your hearing, make sure you let your doctor know about your head injury. This can help inform the correct course of treatment to help.

At Hearing, Balance & Speech Center, our hearing care professionals would be happy to give you a hearing assessment. Give us a call on 203-774-5642 to arrange an appointment, or click here to request one online.

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