Playing to Win Could Mean Hearing Loss
Soccer is winding down. Hockey and basketball are revving up. College and NFL football are in full swing. Must mean summer is in the rearview mirror.
It also means pickup games galore, such as basketball, flag football, and street hockey — and more debates over concussions in contact sports.
But two symptoms of concussion that don’t get much press are hearing loss and tinnitus.
Sports and Concussions
Sports-related concussions are not rare — 1.6 million to 3.8 million occur annually in the U.S. And in the age range 5–19 years, there were around 46,000 diagnosed concussions in 2016 and 2017 in hospital emergency departments in Canada.
A concussion is serious business. Consider its other definition: The least severe type of TBI — short for traumatic brain injury. The CDC explains TBI as “an injury that affects how the brain works.”
Concussions and Your Hearing System
Your hearing system’s setup makes it susceptible to damage by a concussion, especially in contact sports. The part of your brain that processes sound is located at the side of your head, about ear level. Prime real estate for an impact.
The force necessary for a concussion can damage or break any of the tiny bones in your middle ear or inner ear.
Plus, there are more nerves connecting your ear and brain than there are for your other senses. It’s a dense net traveling between your ear, brainstem, midbrain, and cortex. These nerves take quite a pounding when your head suffers an impact — the force jostles your brain, stretching, shearing, or possibly destroying your nerve fibers.
Sound processing is demanding on your nervous system. It’s also very fast — things happen in microseconds. If a concussion damages your nerve fibers or causes inflammation and bruising, your hearing suffers.
How Concussions Affect Your Hearing
It’s common for those with sports-related concussions to hear quiet noises just fine, but then have trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment like, at a restaurant or a game.
Other possible problems include:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing loss
- Sound sensitivity
- A feeling like your ears need to pop but can’t
- Problems understanding speech despite passing a hearing test
Symptoms of Concussion
After a head injury, concussion symptoms might appear right away or not for hours or days. They usually improve over time — often you’ll feel better within a couple of weeks.
Symptoms are different for each person and might change during recovery. For example, your symptoms might be physical early on, only to become more emotional a week or two after your injury.
Common symptoms include:
- Light or noise sensitivity
- Balance problems
- Trouble with thinking or memory
- Mood swings
If You Suspect a Concussion
Unfortunately, contact sports and head injuries are a natural fit. Even a helmet or some other type of head protection only goes so far.
If you think a head injury has led to a concussion, see a physician right away. You’ll receive a neurological evaluation that measures your vision, hearing, balance, and coordination responses. You’ll also receive cognitive tests to ensure your thinking hasn’t been affected.
You might also get imaging tests such as cranial computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These identify any physical injury or bleeding inside your skull.
You need to be supervised for 24 hours, possibly in the hospital but most likely by a loved one in the comfort of your own home. This is to ensure the symptoms don’t worsen. The most common treatment for a concussion is rest and avoiding strenuous activity.
If you’ve had a concussion and suspect you’ve developed hearing loss or tinnitus, contact us to schedule a hearing consultation.