Concussions & Tinnitus: What’s the Link?

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

You know that scene in your favorite action movie where something blows up near the hero and the sound gets all high-pitched-buzzing? Well, guess what: that most likely means our hero sustained at least a mild traumatic brain injury!

To be sure, brain injuries aren’t the bit that most action movies linger on. But that high-pitched ringing is something known as tinnitus. Tinnitus is most often discussed in the context of hearing loss, but it turns out that traumatic brain injuries such as concussions can also cause this particular ringing in the ears.

Concussions, after all, are one of the most prevalent traumatic brain injuries that happen. And they can occur for a wide variety of reasons (car crashes, sporting accidents, and falls, for example). It can be somewhat complex sorting out how a concussion can cause tinnitus. Fortunately, treating and managing your conditions is usually very attainable.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a particular type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Think about it this way: your brain is nestled fairly tightly into your skull (your brain is large, 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 because there’s so little additional space in there, your brain may literally smash into the inside of your skull.

This hurts your brain! Multiple sides of your skull can be impacted by your brain. And this is what causes a concussion. This illustration makes it quite evident that a concussion is literally damage to the brain. Symptoms of concussions include the following:

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

This list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the idea. Symptoms from a concussion can persist anywhere between several weeks and a few months. When someone gets one concussion, they will normally make a full recovery. However, repeated or multiple concussions are a bigger problem (generally, it’s a good idea to avoid these).

How do concussions trigger tinnitus?

Can a concussion mess with your hearing? Really?

The matter of concussions and tinnitus is an interesting one. Because it’s more accurate to say that traumatic brain injuries (even minor ones) can result in tinnitus, it’s not just concussions. That ringing in your ears can be set off by even minor brain injuries. That may happen in a few ways:

  • Disruption of communication: Concussion can, in some cases, damage the parts of the brain that control hearing. As a result, the signals sent from the ear to your brain can’t be correctly processed and tinnitus can be the outcome.
  • A “labyrinthine” concussion: This kind of concussion takes place when the inner ear is damaged due to your TBI. This damage can cause inflammation and lead to both hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Damage to your hearing: For members of the armed forces, TBIs and concussions are often a result of proximity to an explosion. And explosions are incredibly loud, the noise and the shock wave can damage the stereocilia in your ear, triggering hearing loss and tinnitus. So it isn’t so much that the concussion brought about tinnitus, it’s that the tinnitus and concussion have a common root cause.
  • Nerve damage: There’s also a nerve that is responsible for sending sounds you hear to your brain, which a concussion can damage.
  • Interruption of the Ossicular Chain: The transmission of sound to your brain is aided by three bones in your ear. These bones can be knocked out of place by a substantial concussive, impactive event. Tinnitus can be triggered by this and it can also interrupt your hearing.
  • Meniere’s Syndrome: The development of a condition known as Meniere’s Syndrome can be a consequence of a TBI. When pressure accumulates in the inner ear this condition can occur. Significant hearing loss and tinnitus can become an issue 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. Individualized care and instructions, from us, will be given to every patient. Indeed, if you think you have suffered a traumatic brain injury or a concussion, you need to call us for an evaluation right away.

How do you manage tinnitus caused by a concussion?

Most frequently, tinnitus related to a concussion or traumatic brain injury will be short-term. How long does tinnitus linger after a concussion? Well, it might last weeks or possibly months. But, it’s likely that your tinnitus is permanent if it lasts more than a year. Over time, in these situations, treatment plans to manage your condition will be the optimal plan.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

  • Masking device: This device goes in your ear a lot like a hearing aid, but it produces particular noises instead of making things louder. This noise is custom tailored to your tinnitus, overpowering the sound so you can pay attention to voices, or other sounds you really want to hear.
  • Hearing aid: Sometimes, tinnitus becomes dominant because the rest of the world takes a back seat (as is the situation with non-TBI-caused hearing loss, everything else becomes quieter, so your tinnitus seems louder). A hearing aid can help turn the volume up on everything else, ensuring that your tinnitus fades into the background.
  • Therapy: In some cases, therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be utilized to help patients ignore the noise produced by their tinnitus. You disregard the sound after acknowledging it. It will take some therapy, practice, and time though.

In some cases, further therapies might be required to achieve the desired result. Getting rid of the tinnitus will often require treatment to the root concussion. The best course of action will depend on the status of your concussion and your TBI. In this regard, an accurate diagnosis is key.

Discover what the best 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 affected by a concussion. It’s never a good day when you get a concussion! And if you’ve been in a car crash and your ears are ringing, you might wonder why.

Tinnitus may emerge instantly or in the days that follow. However, it’s essential to remember that tinnitus after a head injury can be successfully managed. Give us a call today to make an appointment.

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.

Stop struggling to hear conversations. Come see us today. Call or Text