Young woman suffering from ear pain on beige background.

Head Injuries and Hearing Loss

Olga Lis, MS, CCC-A

Head injuries are a common cause of hospitalizations in the United States. From motor skills and function to sensory losses, the side effects and potential long term impacts of head injuries can be devastating.

What is a Head Injury?

Head injuries can range from a mild concussion to a more severe traumatic brain injury, or TBI. They can happen to anyone at any age. TBIs are most commonly a result of motor vehicle accidents, firearms, contact sports, or simply falling.

Most people who experience a mild concussion, after being examined by a healthcare provider, are able to recover safely at home. However in the case of more severe head injuries or TBIs, extended hospitalizations and/or rehabilitation facilities are used to aid in recovery.

While some people who suffer from head injuries are able to recover fully, others who suffer from severe TBIs can have long lasting impacts to their day to day lives.

How do Head Injuries Impact Hearing Loss?

To better understand the link between head injuries and hearing loss, we must first look at how hearing works. Hearing is complex and impressive process. As sound enters the ear, the eardrum begins to vibrate. These vibrations are transmitted through tiny bones and inner ear fluid that eventually reach even smaller hair cells. It is these hair cells that that work to send electrical signals to the cranial auditory nerve which translates this all of this input into sounds we recognize.

Because of this complex system, when a head injury occurs there are many places where the hearing process can break down. The mechanical portions of the ear, such as the tiny bones can break, swelling in the brain can put pressure on the auditory nerve, or numerous other issues can occur.

Signs and Symptoms

When a head injury or TBI occurs, there are several impacts it can have on your ears and hearing. Hearing loss from trauma is most often classified as sensorineural hearing loss. As opposed to conductive hearing loss which occurs in the middle or outer ear, sensorineural hearing loss typically occurs in the inner ear. Injuries to the inner ear can result in some of the following signs and symptoms.

  • Hearing loss can range from mild to profound. It can occur in one or both ears and is often permanent.
  • Balance problems and dizziness are common issues, even after a mild concussion. They can be permanent, but often times resolve with time and recovery.
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is sometimes associated with hearing loss however they do not always occur together. Tinnitus can be constant or intermittent and is usually only heard by the person experiencing it.

Prevention of Head Injuries

Because many head injuries and TBIs are the result of an accident, it can be difficult to fully prevent them however there are safety steps everyone can take to reduce them.

  • Wear seatbelts when in motor vehicles
  • Reduce clutter around the home to prevent falling
  • Get eyes checked to reduce accidental trips or falls
  • Wear a helmet when riding bikes or playing sports
  • Home safety with children such as gates at the top and bottom of staircases

Treatment for Hearing Loss

If you have experienced a head injury of any degree in the past, it may be a good idea to see a hearing health provider in order to check your hearing (after first getting checked by a healthcare provider). When you see a hearing health provider for the first time, they will review your history as well as signs and symptoms you are experiencing.  A hearing test, or audiogram, will likely follow to establish a baseline and determine any potential hearing loss.

The most common treatment for those with hearing loss is hearing aids. Hearing aids today are unique to each user. They work by amplifying the exact frequencies each wearer needs to the exact volume. Hearing aids can be used to treat anywhere from mild to severe, and in some cases profound, hearing loss.

Cochlear implants are also available for those with severe or profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants work differently than hearing aids as they stimulate the auditory nerve directly in order for the user to understand sound.

Speak with your hearing health provider or audiologist for a hearing test and possible treatment options.