You know that scene in your favorite action movie where something explodes near the hero and the sound goes all high-pitched-buzzing? Well, at least some degree of minor brain trauma has likely happened to them.
Naturally, action movies don’t emphasize the brain injury part. But that ringing in our hero’s ears signifies a condition called tinnitus. Normally, hearing loss is the topic of a tinnitus conversation, but traumatic brain injuries can also trigger this condition.
Concussions, after all, are one of the more prevalent traumatic brain injuries that happen. And there are lots of reasons concussions can happen (car accidents, sporting accidents, and falls, for instance). How something like a concussion causes tinnitus can be, well, complicated. But here’s the good news: even if you sustain a brain injury that triggers tinnitus, you can usually treat and manage your condition.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is brain trauma of a very specific kind. One way to view it is that your brain is protected by sitting snuggly in your skull. The brain will begin moving around in your skull when something shakes your head violently. But because there’s so little extra space in there, your brain could literally crash into the inside of your skull.
This harms your brain! Multiple sides of your skull can be hit by your brain. And this is what leads to a concussion. This illustration makes it quite clear that a concussion is literally damage to the brain. Here are some symptoms of a concussion:
- A slow or delayed response to questions
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of memory and confusion
- Blurry vision or dizziness
- Ringing in the ears
Although this list makes the point, it’s in no way exhaustive. Several weeks to a few months is the normal duration of concussion symptoms. Brain injury from a single concussion is typically not permanent, most individuals will end up making a complete recovery. But recurring concussions can result in irreversible brain damage.
How is tinnitus caused by a concussion?
Can a concussion interfere with your hearing? Really?
It’s an interesting question: what is the connection between concussions and tinnitus? Not surprisingly, concussions won’t be the only brain traumas that can cause tinnitus symptoms. Even mild brain injuries can result in that ringing in your ears. That may occur in a few ways:
- Meniere’s Syndrome: The development of a condition known as Meniere’s Syndrome can be caused by a TBI. This is caused by an accumulation of pressure inside of the inner ear. Substantial hearing loss and tinnitus can become a problem over time as a result of Menier’s disease.
- Disruption of communication: In some instances, the part of your brain that manages hearing can become damaged by a concussion. As a result, the messages sent from the ear to your brain can’t be correctly processed and tinnitus can result.
- Nerve damage: There’s also a nerve that is responsible for sending sounds you hear to your brain, which a concussion can damage.
- A “labyrinthine” concussion: When your TBI injures the inner ear this kind of concussion occurs. This damage can create inflammation and cause both hearing loss and tinnitus.
- Damage to your hearing: Experiencing an explosion at close range is the cause of concussions and TBIs for many members of the armed forces. Irreversible hearing loss can be caused when the stereocilia in your ears are damaged by the exceptionally noisy shock wave of an explosion. So it’s not so much that the concussion brought about tinnitus, it’s that the tinnitus and concussion have a common root cause.
- Interruption of the Ossicular Chain: There are three bones in your ear that help transmit sounds to your brain. A significant impact (the kind that can trigger a concussion, for example) can jostle these bones out of position. This can disrupt your ability to hear and cause tinnitus.
Of course it’s important to note that no two brain injuries are exactly alike. Every patient will get individualized care and instructions from us. Indeed, if you think you have suffered a traumatic brain injury or a concussion, you need to call us for an assessment as soon as possible.
When you get a concussion and tinnitus is the result, how can it be treated?
Typically, it will be a temporary scenario if tinnitus is the result of a concussion. After a concussion, how long can I expect my tinnitus to linger? Weeks or possibly months, unfortunately, could be the time frame. But, it’s likely that your tinnitus is irreversible if it lasts more than a year. In these cases, the treatment plan transitions to controlling your symptoms over the long term.
This can be accomplished by:
- Therapy: Sometimes, patients can learn to disregard the sound by engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You acknowledge that the noise is there, and then disregard it. This technique requires therapy and practice.
- Masking device: This device is a lot like a hearing aid, but instead of helping you hear things louder, it produces a particular noise in your ear. Your specific tinnitus symptoms determine what sound the device will generate helping you ignore the tinnitus sounds and be better able to pay attention to voices and other outside sounds.
- Hearing aid: Sometimes, tinnitus becomes dominant because the rest of the world takes a back seat (as is the case with non-TBI-caused hearing loss, everything else becomes quieter, so your tinnitus sounds louder). A hearing aid can help turn the volume up on everything else, assuring that your tinnitus fades into the background.
In some situations, further therapies may be required to accomplish the desired result. Getting rid of the tinnitus will frequently require treatment to the root concussion. The correct course of action will depend on the status of your concussion and your TBI. This means a precise diagnosis is extremely important in this regard.
Find out what the right plan of treatment might be for you by giving us a call.
You can manage tinnitus caused by a TBI
Your life can be traumatically impacted by a concussion. It’s never a good day when you get a concussion! And if you’ve been in a car accident and your ears are ringing, you might wonder why.
Tinnitus may emerge instantly or in the following days. However, it’s essential to remember that tinnitus after a head injury can be managed effectively. Give us a call today to make an appointment.