Hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions that people navigate on a daily basis. Impacting over 40 million people in the U.S., hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to hear which impacts all aspects of life. There are several causes that contribute to its development including: aging, existing medical conditions, environmental exposure to loud noise, and genetic history. Another factor that you may not readily think of that can impair hearing is head injuries. Falls, car/bike accidents, and contact sports are common causes of head injuries which can lead to long lasting effects on overall health.
Prevalence of Head Injuries
Head injuries are a major source of disability and death. Head injuries refer to trauma – blow, jolt, force – to the head. The abrupt and violent movement of the head area produces varying effects that can cause temporary or permanent damage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are up to 3 million head injuries every year. Nearly one third are traumatic brain injuries which cause profound damage. The most common causes of head injuries are falls, car accidents, and being struck by an object. In assessing the prevalence of head injuries in the U.S. in 2014, the CDC found:
- Emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths increased by 53% from 2006 to 2014
- Falls caused 48% of head injuries
- Car accidents: 20%
- Struck by object: 17%
Head injuries can range from mild (concussions) to severe (traumatic brain injury) and can result in swelling, hemorrhaging, bruising etc. In addition to causing chronic vertigo, migraines, tinnitus (buzzing or ringing noise in the ears), head injuries can also lead to permanent hearing loss.
Head Injuries & Hearing Loss
The auditory system (the way we hear) involves numerous parts of the ear and brain which work to absorb and process sound. This includes:
- Outer Ear: the most visible part of the ear, ear canal, and ear drum
- Middle Ear: ossicles which are three, tiny bones that are connected
- Inner Ear: cochlea – filled with thousands of hair cells and fluid, auditory pathways leading to the brain
The outer ear collects sound from the environment which travels down the ear canal and strikes the eardrum. This triggers the ossicles which propel the soundwaves further into the inner ear. Activating the cochlea, the movement of hair cells and fluid help translate the soundwaves into electrical signals that then travel through auditory pathways and reach the brain. The brain is then able to process and make meaning of the sound, enabling us to understand what we hear.
Head injuries can damage any of these critical parts – brute force can rupture the eardrum, impact the ossicles, damage the hair cells, restrict blood flow etc. which disrupts the processing of sound. Depending on where the damage occurs, it can obstruct the absorption of sound, prevent soundwaves from flowing to the inner ear, reduce the ability for hair cells to translate soundwaves which makes it challenging for the brain to then process the incoming information. Hearing loss is a permanent medical condition which cannot be cured but effectively managed. If you have experienced a head injury, it is critical to have your hearing assessed.
Treating Hearing Loss
Seeking treatment for hearing loss is relatively simple. The first step is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. We provide hearing tests which measure your hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you may be experiencing. There are several ways that hearing loss can be treated including hearing aids. The most common treatment, hearing aids are devices that absorb, amplify, and process sound which can substantially enhance hearing. Like most electronic devices, hearing aids have experienced significant innovation. They are smaller and more advanced than ever, featuring various technologies that are designed to maximize usability and hearing in all environments. They can also be easily integrated into daily life.
In addition to treating hearing loss be sure to always wear protective gear while playing contact sports, driving, and riding a bike which can reduce the impact of any injuries!