There are several factors that can cause hearing loss, the third most pervasive medical condition people live with today. This includes traumatic brain injuries which are a type of head injury that can produce various effects including damaging the auditory system which is the sensory system for hearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over three million head injuries occur every year. These range from concussions (the most mild form) to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) which is the most severe type of head injury. It is estimated that 1 in 3 head injuries is a TBI. This can lead to cognitive and physical challenges as well as hearing loss.
Link Between TBIs & Hearing Loss
TBIs can cause hearing loss and hearing health related issues in several ways. To understand how hearing health can be impacted, it is useful to know more about how we hear. Hearing involves a complex process that involves the ears and brain which work together to absorb and process speech and sound. This includes:
- Outer ear: the outer portion of the ear absorbs sound waves from the environment which travel through the ear canal and land on the eardrum.
- Middle ear: the vibrations of the eardrum activate the ossicles, three small bones that are connected. The eardrum and the ossicles help propel soundwaves further into the inner ear.
- Inner ear: there are thousands of tiny sensory cells in the cochlea. They help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals.
Once converted into electrical signals, this information is carried to the brain through the auditory nerve. The brain is then able to further process them which involves assigning meaning to these signals, a process that enables us to understand what we hear.
TBIs can disrupt this process in several ways. It can damage several of these integral components of the auditory system by tearing the eardrum, dislodging the ossicles, and damaging sensory cells in the inner ear. This prevents these components from performing their essential functions, preventing soundwaves from being processed effectively.
Impact of TBIs on Hearing Health
The symptoms produced by TBI related hearing health damage can include the following:
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears. More than half of people who experience TBIs will also develop tinnitus.
- Noise sensitivity, sensitivity to loudness.
- Difficulty hearing specific sounds.
- Aural fullness (feeling sense of fullness in the ears).
- Hearing loss
In addition to these hearing related symptoms, TBIs can also impact balance. The sensory system for balance is also in the inner ear, along with the sensory system for hearing. This can cause dizziness, vertigo, feeling unsteady, and motion sickness. These symptoms can affect health and wellness in everyday life, highlighting the importance of seeking treatment.
Treating TBI Related Hearing Issues
There are different ways TBI related hearing issues are treated. Treatment depends on the underlying cause – perforated eardrum, sensory cells impairment, dislodged ossicles etc. Options include performing surgery to repair the ossicles, a tare in the eardrum typically heals naturally, or treating damage to sensory cells with hearing aids. Hearing aids are one of the most common solutions to hearing loss. These electronic devices are designed to process sound which provide the ears and brain with ample support. Hearing aids alleviate symptoms and increase one’s capacity to hear. If you have experienced a TBI, is it important to have your hearing health evaluated?
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are a few ways you can reduce your risk of experiencing a TBI and protect your hearing health. A few tips include:
- Wear protective gear: common causes of TBIs are car and bike accidents as well as sports related injuries. A great way to prevent this is by wearing protective gear like a helmet while riding a bike, wearing a seatbelt while driving, and protective gear while engaging in physical activities and sports.
- Wear hearing aids: if you have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, it is important to fully utilize your drive by wearing them throughout the day. This increases spatial awareness and overall safety, reducing the risk of exercising a fall.
- Test hearing regularly: be sure to test your hearing regularly. This is especially important if you’ve experienced a TBI. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures your hearing apacites. This allows you to track your hearing health and intervene early if you have hearing loss symptoms.
Contact us to learn more about how you can prioritize your hearing health and wellness.