Concussions and head injuries are receiving greater and greater attention, and rightfully so. Their effects, whether mild or subtle, can be very disruptive to a person’s ability to excel academically or professionally, or enjoy social situations or physical activity. Fortunately, audiologists can play a significant role in helping people with concussions and head injuries overcome these effects and symptoms.
One of the most significant areas that an audiologist can help is in the area of auditory processing issues. First, we need to consider how auditory processing normally works. It actually takes a lot of brain power and rapid processing on the part of the brain to process speech. If you think about it as someone is speaking, the individual sounds of speech, the phonemes are coming really fast, and your brain has to be really fast in terms of processing to piece all of that together – take those individual sounds, put them into words, take those words, put them in the sentences, and, and have the working memory to do all of that. It actually requires a lot of cognitive resources and it has to be fast.
And so, when someone has a concussion or a brain injury of some sort, often those cognitive resources become a little bit limited, particularly in terms of processing speed. To be clear, not intelligence in any way, shape, or form, just the ability to process information quickly sometimes declines after a concussion or brain injury. And again, the brain has to be “super fast” in terms of processing speech. And so as audiologists, we have tests to evaluate a person's auditory processing and see if it's “up to par”, if it matches what's age-appropriate for that patient.
If it isn't, we have very effective treatments that can help with those auditory processing deficits. At Aberdeen Audiology, we've had a number of patients over the years who have had concussions and brain injuries, we've tested them, we've treated them, and they would all say afterwards that they felt like they had improved quite a bit to the point that their lives were significantly improved. maybe not to where they were before the injury.
Another area when it comes to concussions or brain injuries is balance. Again let's discuss how the balance system typically works – it's the brain integrating information it gets from the eyes. the ears and our limbs in space. The brain takes all that information, integrates it, and that's our sense of balance. When somebody has a concussion or a brain injury, any number of things can be affected but one of the things that's affected is, again, how quickly the brain processes incoming information. And so if the brain isn't quickly processing the information it's getting from those sensors, so to speak, our limbs, our eyes, and our ears, then a patient may experience some sort of dizziness, vertigo, or unsteadiness.
Certain types of concussions and head injuries can affect the ear, and in that case, an audiologist can help identify that and treat many of those conditions. Sometimes there are issues with the way the brain processes information coming from the eyes, and while audiologists cannot treat those issues, we can help to determine if the issue is an eye issue, brain issue, or an ear issue.
In instances where the balance issue is identified but is something that an audiologist can’t treat, we have a network of specialists that we can refer to for treatment. (And if we can take a moment to brag, at Aberdeen Audiology, we have testing equipment that is typically only available at large, prominent academic medical centers. In other words, we're a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs that actually has that kind of testing equipment and capability typically only found in the city of Philadelphia.)
Another area where audiologists can be of help with concussions and head injuries is tinnitus. Many times after a head injury or concussion, people will experience some sort of ringing or buzzing or chirping or roaring. Some perceive it in one ear, some perceive it in both, and some perceive it in the middle of their head between their two ears.
Audiologists can evaluate the tinnitus and we can also treat it. We can make it so that the tinnitus is less noticeable or less distracting or less distressing. Admittedly it is rare for any professional to be able to fully eliminate tinnitus, but significant progress can be made in reducing the effect tinnitus has one someone.
If you or someone you know who has had a head injury or a concussion and they are experiencing difficulties with understanding speech in competing noise, or difficulty remembering things that they've been told, or they are unsteady, or ringing in the ears, audiologists can help with those effects and help bring that person’s life back to normal.
Recently, a patient by the name of “Patricia” successfully completed a 12-session course of one-on-one auditory training with one of our audiologists, Dr. Alexandra Taylor and we believe her case is a wonderful example of the benefits of auditory training.
Often, patients will ask us what caused their tinnitus, and while the exact cause of tinnitus is not always known, but some common causes include: