There are approximately 3 million head injuries in the US each year, ranging from severe and life-threatening injuries to mild concussions. Head injuries can lead to changes in motor abilities, changes in mood, and even impaired cognitive function. Injuries can also lead to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
Traumatic head injuries can be caused by any fall, bump, or blow to the head. A shaking or jolting of the head, such as during a car accident, can also cause a concussion or brain injury. One of the main causes of head injuries are falls, which usually affect very young children or the elderly. Car accidents and sports-related injuries also account for a large number of traumatic brain injuries each year. Bicycle or motorbike accidents are another common cause of concussions.
Young men between the ages of 15 to 35 are the most likely to suffer a head injury than any other demographic, and this is due to more risk taking behaviour in young men, as well as far higher rates of participation in contact sports. This age group is even more at risk because those who’ve had one concussion are more likely to have a second injury. A sports player with a concussion may easily sustain another injury, even if the force of the fall is less than the initial injury.
Even mild head injuries or concussions can have some serious long-term effects, and the symptoms of a head injury can last long after the bruising (contusion) of the brain has healed. Symptoms of a concussion or brain injury include a pounding headache, and a feeling of pressure in the head. Some memory loss may accompany a head injury, as well as nausea, dizziness, or vomiting. Blurry vision, and a feeling of fatigue are common symptoms. Finally, many people experience some mood changes, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and even depression.
Head injuries usually cause dizziness, a feeling of vertigo, and temporary tinnitus and hearing loss which may become permanent. Other ways a head injury effects hearing include:
Injuries have a long-lasting effect on hearing. A head injury can cause immediate and permanent damage to the structures of the ear, damaging the outer or inner ear, or the auditory pathway to the brain. This damage can include:
Concussions may cause conductive hearing loss, or hearing loss that results in damage to the outer or middle ear. For example, a perforated ear drum or a blocked ear canal will lead to hearing loss. This hearing loss may begin immediately after the injury, or in the days following the injury, as contusions in the brain may cause the ear to fill with fluid, or block blood flow to the ears.
Concussions can also cause sensorineural hearing loss from damage to the cells in the inner ear. Airbag injuries often cause sensorineural hearing loss, and unlike conductive hearing loss which may be temporary, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent.
If you or a loved one has suffered a concussion or traumatic brain injury, treat the symptoms of the injury and the hearing loss as soon as possible. Consult with your doctor to explore your symptoms and treatment options, then visit a hearing health specialist to learn about your hearing loss.
Hearing loss due to a brain injury may be restored in the months after injury, and conductive hearing loss may disappear altogether. However, hearing loss is often permanent, and treating hearing loss will help you maintain an active social life, hear clearly during work, and maintain your quality of life after an injury.