Approximately 1.4 million individuals suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year in the United States. Common causes of injury are automobile accidents, airbag deployment, falls, assaults/blows, sports-related injuries and explosive blasts. Other causes of brain injury are strokes, edema, meningitis, tumors and even certain medications. The resulting symptoms a person suffers are varied.
INJURY FROM AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENTS
The brain may be shaken within the skull, causing bruises (also called contusions) to form at the sites of impact. Like bruises elsewhere on the body, these will heal with time. Brain injury can occur even when there is no direct blow to the head, such as when a person suffers whiplash. The force may stretch and sever fibers in the brain. Damage to these fibers disrupts communication between nerve cells and reduces the efficiency of the brain’s function.
Injury from Bleeding
Damage to blood vessels surrounding the brain is another common source of injury, causing bleeding between the brain and skull. This bleeding often stops and the blood vessels heal like any other cut. Surgery on the brain will often help with swelling; however, there may be residual difficulty after the emergency treatment has been completed.
Types of Symptoms
Minor head injuries can cause a wide range of cognitive deficits, such as impaired attention, slowed information processing, memory difficulty, difficult word retrieval, deficits in understanding speech and problem-solving. There can be personality changes, including increased irritability, anxiety, depression and social inappropriateness. Depression is one of the most commonly reported problems after head injury. Hyper-sensitive vision and hearing are also common side effects of head trauma.
HYPERSENSITIVITY to Sound
Hypersensitivity to sound is called hyperacusis. After an individual has suffered from head injury, he or she may report becoming nervous or anxious when going to stores, movies or restaurants. These individuals may feel that they hear as well as they did prior to the injury but now they have difficulty focusing on only one sound. It is as if all the sound in the room rushes into the brain without any type of governor or filtering system. People report that they hear a solid wall of noise that is constantly closing in on them.
Individuals with hyperacusis have difficulty tolerating sounds that do not seem loud to others, such as the noise from running faucet water, riding in a car, walking on leaves, a dishwasher, a refrigerator fan, shuffling papers and the sound of their own breathing. Although all sounds may be perceived as too loud, high frequency sounds may be particularly troublesome.
The quality of life for individuals with hyperacusis can be greatly compromised. For those with a severe intolerance to sound, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to function in an everyday environment with all the ambient noise.
Treatment for Hyperacusis
Hyperacusis may occur without damage to the hearing organ (cochlea). On other occasions, it occurs in conjunction with damage to the cochlea. After a head injury or brain injury, it is recommended that you have a hearing evaluation. During the visit, you and your audiologist will discuss any symptoms you are experiencing. You will learn whether your hearing symptoms are isolated to the cochlea or throughout the auditory pathways in your brain.
Your audiologist may recommend that you use musician’s earplugs. This special custom-fit earplug filters out sounds of specific intensities depending on the severity of your situation. Because they are fit to your ears, they are comfortable enough to wear all day. As time progresses, you will be able to wear the earplugs less and less. There are individuals who wear their earplugs for a few years after injury and others who are able to use the plugs only in certain noisy situations.
Find a Support Group
One of the primary difficulties of living with this disorder is other people’s reactions to what you are experiencing. Those who do not have hypersensitivity to sound simply cannot imagine how their chewing and swallowing noises can be so distracting to another person. Often, protests from the sufferer are misinterpreted as passive-aggressive personal attacks or simply not believed at all.
Remember that you are not alone. If you feel that you are having significant difficulty coping with your symptoms, speak to a professional. There are support groups that focus on head injury sufferers and they are great places to learn about your condition and establish camaraderie with other people who are experiencing similar difficulty. QCBN
By Karon Lynn, Au.D.
Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit TrinityHearing.net.
Karon Lynn, Au.D., is a doctor of audiology with 30 years of experience working with hearing impaired individuals. Dr. Lynn may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.