Concussions & Tinnitus: What's the Connection?

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Woman with hands on her head suffering from concussion related tinnitus.

You know that scene in your favorite action movie where something explodes next to the hero and the sound goes all high-pitched-buzzing? Well, at least some degree of mild brain trauma has likely happened to them.

Obviously, action movies don’t emphasize the brain injury part. But that high-pitched ringing is something known as tinnitus. Usually, hearing loss is the topic of a tinnitus conversation, but traumatic brain injuries can also trigger this condition.

After all, one of the most prevalent traumatic brain injuries is a concussion. And there are quite a few reasons concussions can occur (car accidents, sporting accidents, and falls, for example). How something like a concussion triggers tinnitus can be, well, complex. 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 type. Think about it this way: your brain is nestled fairly tightly into your skull (your brain is big, and your skull is there to protect it). When something comes along and shakes the head violently enough, your brain begins moving around inside of your skull. But your brain could end up crashing into the inside of your skull because of the little amount of additional space in there.

This causes damage to your brain! Multiple sides of your skull can be impacted by your brain. And this is what leads to a concussion. When you visualize this, it makes it simple to understand how a concussion is quite literally brain damage. Symptoms of concussions include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Slurred speech
  • Ringing in the ears
  • A slow or delayed response to questions
  • Confusion and loss of memory
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Blurry vision or dizziness

This list isn’t complete, but you get the point. Symptoms from a concussion can persist anywhere between several weeks and several months. Brain injury from one concussion is typically not permanent, most people will end up making a full recovery. But repeated concussions can cause irreversible brain damage.

How do concussions trigger tinnitus?

Can a concussion interfere with your hearing? Really?

The question of concussions and tinnitus is an intriguing one. Not surprisingly, concussions won’t be the only brain traumas that can cause tinnitus symptoms. Even mild brain injuries can lead to that ringing in your ears. That might happen in a couple of ways:

  • Damage to your hearing: For members of the military, TBIs and concussions are frequently a result of distance to an explosion. And explosions are really loud, the noise and the shock wave can harm the stereocilia in your ear, triggering hearing loss and tinnitus. So it’s not so much that the concussion brought about tinnitus, it’s that the tinnitus and concussion have the same root cause.
  • Interruption of the Ossicular Chain: There are three tiny bones in your ear that help transfer sounds to your brain. These bones can be knocked out of place by a substantial concussive, impactive event. Tinnitus can be triggered by this and it can also disrupt your hearing.
  • Disruption of communication: Concussion can, in some instances, harm the portions of the brain that manage hearing. Consequently, the signals sent from the ear to your brain can’t be correctly digested and tinnitus can be the outcome.
  • Nerve damage: A concussion may also cause damage to the nerve that is responsible for transferring the sounds you hear to your brain.
  • A “labyrinthine” concussion: This form of concussion happens when the inner ear is injured as a result of your TBI. Tinnitus and hearing loss, as a result of inflammation, can be the consequence of this damage.
  • Meniere’s Syndrome: A TBI can cause the development of a condition known as Meniere’s Syndrome. When pressure builds up in the inner ear this condition can occur. Significant hearing loss and tinnitus can become a problem over time as a result of Menier’s disease.

Of course it’s important to keep in mind that no two brain injuries are exactly the same. Every patient will get individualized care and instructions from us. Indeed, if you think you have experienced a traumatic brain injury or a concussion, you should call us for an assessment as soon as possible.

When you suffer from a concussion and tinnitus is the consequence, how can it be managed?

Typically, it will be a temporary situation if tinnitus is the consequence of a concussion. How long can tinnitus last after a concussion? Weeks or possibly months, sadly, could be the time frame. Then again, if your tinnitus has lingered for more than a year, it’s likely to be irreversible. In these circumstances, the treatment plan transitions to controlling your symptoms over the long term.

This can be accomplished by:

  • Masking device: This device goes in your ear a lot like a hearing aid, but it creates specific noises instead of amplifying things. This noise is custom tailored to your tinnitus, overpowering the sound so you can focus on voices, or other sounds you actually want to hear.
  • Hearing aid: In a similar way to when you’re dealing with hearing loss not caused by a TBI, tinnitus symptoms seem louder because everything else is quieter. Hearing aids help your tinnitus fade into the background by turning up the volume on everything else.
  • Therapy: In some situations, therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be used to help patients ignore the noise caused by their tinnitus. You ignore the sound after acknowledging it. It will require some therapy, practice, and time though.

In some situations, additional therapies may be necessary to achieve the expected result. Management of the underlying concussion might be necessary in order to get rid of the tinnitus. The best course of action will depend on the status of your concussion and your TBI. In this regard, an accurate diagnosis is key.

Consult us about what the right treatment plan might look like for you.

TBI-triggered tinnitus can be managed

A concussion can be a substantial and traumatic event in your life. It’s never a good day when you get concussed! And if you have ringing in your ears, you may ask yourself, why do I have ringing in my ears after a car accident?

It could be days later or instantly after the crash that tinnitus symptoms surface. However, it’s important to remember that tinnitus after a head injury can be successfully managed. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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