Because the inner ear is directly connected to the central nervous system in humans, it may not be surprising that hearing problems are common after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Tinnitus, a ringing, roaring or buzzing in the ears, and hearing loss are two of the most widely reported hearing-related side effects of a TBI.
Other hearing-related problems that can stem from brain damage include hyperacusis, in which normal situations seem unbearably loud; difficulty filtering one set of sounds from background noise, such as a conversation in a crowded restaurant; or auditory agnosia (also called pure word deafness), in which the patient is simply unable to recognize the meanings of certain sounds.
Ear Structure and Traumatic Brain Injury
Damage to the ear itself during a traumatic brain injury can cause hearing problems. The inner ear is made of a series of small and delicate membranes and body parts, which can rupture during head trauma.
The cochlea, an important spiral-shaped bone inside the ear, may be concussed by a strong blow, causing hearing damage when supporting membranes are torn; patients with cochlear concussions often develop vertigo as well. Another type of membrane damage, perilymphatic fistula, causes hearing loss as well as vertigo and nausea. Surgery may help to correct this type of damage.
Doctors agree that damage to the central nervous system also plays a major role in TBI-related hearing problems, especially those with a cognitive basis. Among many others, a 2005 study by doctors at Haifa University in Israel showed that TBI patients who complained of hearing problems (including tinnitus) had significantly reduced function in a part of the brain that regulates hearing, compared to TBI patients without hearing complaints as well as people without head injuries. A German study from 2004 concluded that post-concussion syndrome led to hearing problems, even a year after the trauma, and that widespread damage to connections between the nerves of the central auditory pathway was probably to blame.
Brain Injury-Related Hearing Loss Takes Toll on Everyday Life
Because hearing loss limits or takes away one of the primary tools humans use to communicate, it has the potential to complicate many of the other side effects of brain damage, particularly cognitive and social problems.
For some TBI victims, cognitive issues, such as trouble "finding words," already interfere with their ability to communicate. And inappropriate behaviors are only exacerbated if the patient genuinely cannot hear what is going on.
If You Suffer From TBI-Related Hearing Problems
Some hearing problems disappear a few weeks after the accident that led to the patient's brain damage, but others are lifelong afflictions. Some patients may not even notice their hearing problems until they are diagnosed by a doctor or audiologist.
TBI experts, including the National Institutes of Health, recommend that patients who have sustained brain damage consult an audiologist, even if it seems like nothing is wrong. You may also wish to contact an experienced TBI attorney to evaluate your potential brain injury lawsuit and help you secure compensation for your injuries.