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Head injuries can impact health in a variety of ways including by causing hearing loss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3 million head injuries occur annually. According to the CDC, 1 million of these are traumatic brain injuries, the most severe type of head injury a person can experience. In addition to impacting cognitive functions and mobility, head injuries can lead to the development of hearing loss – a chronic medical condition that reduces one’s ability to hear and process speech as well as sound.
What causes head injuries?
A head injury encompases injuries that impact the scalp, brain, skull, and blood vessels as well as tissue in the head. Head injuries can be mild to severe, ranging from a bump or bruise to a fractured skull or internal bleeding. The most common causes of head injuries are from motor vehicle accidents (cars, motorcycles), falls, and being hit in the head by an object. Direct blow to the head can cause the brain to bruise, it can damage internal tissue, produce swelling etc. Head injuries can produce numerous symptoms and effects.
What are the symptoms of head injuries?
Symptoms depend on the severity of the head injury and can be experienced to varying degrees. Symptoms can include:
- Sensitivity to noise and light
- Lightheadedness, dizziness
- Issues with balance
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears
- Blurred vision
- Issues with memory, concentration, sleep
Moderate to profound forms of head injuries can produce severe symptoms including:
- Sleep disorders like insomnia
- Chronic migraines
- Mobility issues
- Cognitive impairments – challenges with remembering, making decisions, communicating etc.
- Behavioral changes: social withdrawal, mood swings, depression, anxiety etc.
Additionally, head injuries can also lead to hearing loss which affects one’s ability to hear and process sound.
What is the link between hearing loss and head injuries?
Head injuries can impact hearing in a few ways. It can produce symptoms like tinnitus which make it more challenging to hear. It can also damage components that are part of the auditory system which is the sensory system for hearing. This includes:
- Outer ear: this is the most visible part of the ear which is the outer cartilage. The outer ear also consists of the ear canal and ear drum.
- Middle ear: consists of the ossicles which are three connected bones, among the smallest in the human body.
- Inner ear: houses the cochlea which is filled with fluid and thousands of hair cells.
The outer ear absorbs sound waves which move through the ear canal and strike the eardrum. This triggers the ossicles which help push the soundwaves further into the inner ear. The hair cells in the inner ear convert these soundwaves into electrical signals which get carried to the brain via the auditory nerve. The brain then further processes these signals and assigns meaning to them which enables us to understand what we hear.
Head injuries can damage any of these parts – eardrum, ossicles, hair cells etc. This prevents them from performing their essential function, disrupting how sound is processed. This results in hearing loss and the various symptoms associated with impaired hearing.
Tips to Protect Your Hearing Health
There are a few safety tips you can practice to protect your hearing health. This is especially helpful if you’ve experienced a head injury. Tips include the following:
- Have hearing assessed. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures your hearing capacity in each ear. This identifies any hearing loss, the type, and degree of impairment you could be experiencing. Once your hearing needs are established, a hearing healthcare specialist is able to recommend treatment options that can effectively meet those needs.
- Wear protective gear. Wearing protective gear can prevent you from experiencing head injuries or reduce their severity. This includes wearing a helmet while playing sports or riding a bike as well as wearing a seatbelt while driving.
- Wear hearing aids. If you’ve already been diagnosed with hearing loss and wearing hearing aids, it is important to wearing our hearing aids during all waking hours. Hearing aids increase spatial awareness and safety which reduces the risk of experiencing falls – a common cause of head injuries.