Have you been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion? Remember your ears. Airbag injuries or blasts, for example, can affect them and trigger ringing in the ears, dizziness and hearing loss.
Anyone can have a TBI, but these events are more likely to be serious among older people. In the United States, people 75 years and older have the highest numbers and rates of TBI-related hospitalizations.
The first goal for doctors in the aftermath of a TBI is to stabilize the patient. It may take some time before “the patient reports signs and symptoms of audiological disorders or family members start noticing the signs,” notes Shahrzad Cohen, an audiologist based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in a webinar for the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Sometimes problems are identified long afterward. If you have a TBI in your history, even a mild one, be sure to tell your doctor or hearing provider. Hearing loss and other auditory issues may have been missed or misdiagnosed.
What is a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?
The medical definition of a traumatic brain injury is a head trauma that temporarily impairs the normal function of the brain. Falls cause nearly half of all TBIs, followed by car crashes and assaults. Any bump, blow, or jolt that makes the head and brain move rapidly back and forth can make the brain bounce or twist within the skull, triggering chemical changes. It may also damage cells, as you can see in this illustration from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Note that the blow doesn’t have to be directly to your head; for instance, if you are in a car accident and lurch forward violently, you could have a TBI even if your head doesn’t hit anything. Also, your brain may be injured even if you did not lose consciousness.
Doctors may use the word “concussion” rather than brain injury, especially when talking to parents, because it is less alarming. But a concussion is still a TBI. There is some evidence hospitals are undertreating TBIs considered mild. In a study of 395 patients age 14 and older who came to an urban hospital with a mild TBI, among those who met the usual criteria to be sent home without a follow-up, 27 percent actually turned out to have lasting cognitive problems, researchers said, and needed therapy.
What auditory problems can be triggered by a TBI?
Auditory (hearing) problems may include:
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- hearing loss
- noise sensitivity or loudness intolerance
- decreased sound tolerance for specific sounds
- aural fullness (ears feel like they can’t pop)
- auditory processing problems (you pass a hearing test but struggle to …….