Hearing loss is one of the most common, chronic health conditions that people experience. Nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of impaired hearing in the U.S. which impacts over 40 million people. Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including: aging, existing medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension etc.), environmental exposure to loud noise, and genetic history.
In addition to these, an often-overlooked cause of hearing loss is head injuries. Head injuries are common injuries that millions of people experience every year. Resulting from contact sports, car and/or bike accidents, or falling; head injuries can lead to significant damage including hearing loss.
Head Injuries: Common Causes & Impact
Head injuries are caused by trauma – resulting from a blow, jolt, object – to the head and can range from mild to severe. The most common type are concussions which are more mild forms of head injuries. Severe head injuries result in what is referred to as traumatic brain injury which can have profound effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are nearly 3 million head injuries every year and a third are traumatic brain injuries. The most common causes of head injuries are:
- Car accidents
- Impact of being stuck by an object
Head injuries can produce temporary and permanent effects that impact overall health including:
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Tinnitus, a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears
- Chronic nausea and/or migraines
- Difficulty hearing sound, especially in environments with background noise
- Inability to locate where sounds are coming from
These could be underlying symptoms of more severe issues including hearing loss, a permanent health condition that reduces a person’s ability to process sound.
Head Injuries & Hearing Loss
The sudden and extreme force to the head results in such harsh movement that can bruise, swell, or cause localized bleeding in the brain (brain hemorrhage). This can significantly damage a number of parts critical for the auditory system – the process and way we hear. This includes:
- Outer Ear: the most visible part of the ear, ear canal, and ear drum.
- Middle Ear: ossicles which are three, small connected bones
- Inner Ear: cochlea, filled with fluid and thousands of hair cells
The outer ear absorbs sound from the environment, which travels down the ear canal and lands on the eardrum. This triggers the ossicles which help push the soundwaves further into the inner ear where they are translated (by the hair cells) into electrical signals for the brain to process and make meaning of.
Head injuries can damage any one of these critical parts including: rupture the eardrum, damage the ossicles and/or hair cells, restrict blood flow, obstruct auditory pathways etc. This disrupts the process of absorbing and processing soundwaves which results in the reduced capacity to understand sound.
Protecting Your Hearing Health
If you have experienced a head injury, it is critical that you have your hearing assessed. Hearing tests, even if you haven’t had a head injury and for people of all ages, should be incorporated into routine health check-ins.
Facilitated by a hearing health specialist, hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. Hearing tests also establish your hearing needs and allow your hearing healthcare provider to assess the best treatment options for you.
There are various ways hearing loss is treated, the most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices that absorb and process sound. These small, and complex devices increase hearing ability and allow people to navigate all types of environments and social settings with greater ease.
In addition to hearing tests, there are others ways you can be proactive about your hearing health including:
- Wear protective gear when playing contact sports, riding a bike, driving etc.
- Wear hearing aids which allow you to hear warning signs in your environment – sirens, honks, objects coming your way, others yelling etc.
Practicing these simple safety measures can reduce your risk of head injuries and harming your hearing health!
At Enticare, our ear, nose, and throat doctors provide treatment for diseases of the ears, nose, and throat in children and adults through surgical and non-surgical techniques. Our team can help if you’ve been struggling with hearing issues.