Brain Injury and Hearing Damage: What You Should Know
March may be National Brain Injury Awareness month, but knowing how to recognize symptoms of a serious head injury is important all year round. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) have been linked to a host of long-term, debilitating conditions, including some that could affect your hearing and stability.
Every year, people sustain brain injuries in a variety of ways. These include:
- After falls
- While playing sports
- In vehicular accidents
- From falling objects
While some cause little more than a temporary headache, others can result in serious, sometimes permanent injuries―particularly if you sustain a concussion. Concussions can affect the way your brain functions, causing changes psychologically (e.g., personality, judgment, and memory) and physically (e.g., vision, balance, and hearing). The effects have also been found to be cumulative―the more TBIs you sustain throughout your life, the more likely it is you’ll experience lifelong difficulties.
Potential for hearing and balance difficulties
Depending on the location and severity of a TBI, conductive hearing loss and tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears) can result on a temporary or ongoing basis. Possible causes include:
- Dislocation of the ossicles (tiny bones in your inner ear)
- Temporal bone fracture
- Disruption of fluid in the cochlear aqueduct
- Perforated ear drum
- Neural damage (eighth cranial, aka vestibulocochlear nerve)
Besides hearing loss and tinnitus some patients experience vertigo and balance problems post-TBI. For those who develop post-traumatic Meniere’s disease, these symptoms can become chronic.
What you can do to protect your hearing health
Obviously, avoiding head injuries is the best way to protect your brain and its functions, e.g., by wearing helmets when playing contact sports or riding a motorcycle. But not all TBIs can be avoided no matter how careful you are. If you should suffer a head injury, don’t ignore symptoms like blurred vision, severe headache, or ringing in your ears. See a doctor as soon as possible and follow their advice. As for your hearing, consult a hearing care professional if your tinnitus or hearing loss persists, as you may require specialized treatment of these particular symptoms. Some cases can be treated with medication and counseling; others eased by surgery or assistive devices like hearing aids.
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