Falls, blows to the head, sports injuries, and even listening to loud music can cause hearing damage, which can affect hearing and balance. This is because the ears not only help us to hear but also to maintain our stability.
We need to hear well to develop and use our speaking and listening skills and social skills. Even mild or partial hearing loss can affect the ability to speak and understand language, while the balance problems can affect how we move and how we feel.
How the ear works
To understand ear injuries, it helps to review the details of this part of the body. Basically, the ear is made up of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.
Hearing begins when airborne sound waves reach the outer ear, or pinna (the visible part of the ear or ear). The outer ear picks up sound vibrations and sends them to the middle ear through the external auditory canal. The middle ear contains the eardrum (a thin layer of tissue) and three tiny bones (called the “ossicle chain”). The sound vibrating the eardrum and the chain of ossicles amplifies these vibrations and transmits them to the inner ear.
The inner ear consists of a snail-shaped cavity (the cochlea) that is filled with fluid and lined by four rows of tiny hair cells. As the vibrations travel through the fluid, the outer hair cells contract and amplify the sound.
When the vibrations are large enough, the inner hair cells translate them into electrical nerve impulses and send this information to the vestibulocochlear nerve (also called the auditory nerve, acoustic nerve, eighth cranial nerve), which sends signals to the brain for it to interpret as sounds. The vestibulocochlear nerve also helps maintain balance.
Types of ear injuries
Hearing loss and balance problems can occur when critical parts of the ear, such as the eardrum, ear canal, ossicles, cochlea, or vestibular nerve, are damaged.
Let’s take a look at the main causes of ear injuries and how they can affect:
Cuts, scratches, burns or frostbites. When an injury (even a minor one) occurs to the outer ear or ear canal, bleeding and infections can affect other parts of the ear.
Introduction of objects into the ear. Things like cotton swabs (or cotton buds), nails or pencils can rub the ear canal and / or even perforate the eardrum (which is called a ruptured or perforated eardrum).
Direct blows to the ear or head. Falls, traffic accidents, sports injuries, or fighting can puncture the eardrum, dislocate the ossicle chain, or injure the inner ear. Wrestlers, boxers and other types of athletes who repeatedly receive strong impacts in the outer ear can develop severe bruises or blood clots that interrupt the blood flow to the cartilage of the ear, altering its shape and structure (which is known as cauliflower ear).
Loud noises. We can have significant and / or permanent hearing loss when they are exposed to really loud noises every day or for a long period of time. This is called “acoustic trauma” or noise-induced hearing loss.
When this happens, the tiny hair cells in the cochlea deteriorate. This deterioration can be caused by a loud noise (such as a gunshot, a firecracker or an explosion) or noises that are repeated over time (such as lawn mowers, power tools, agricultural machinery, noise that spawn sporting events, band rehearsals, craft workshops, motorcycles, and even movie theaters). But, in both children and adolescents, listening to music at too high a volume (at concerts, in the car or through headphones) is one of the main causes of this type of completely preventable hearing loss.
Sudden and significant change in air pressure. When we dive or fly in an airplane, the air pressure decreases as we go up and increases when we go down. If the pressure is not equalized on both sides of the eardrum, the part of the eardrum where there is more pressure bulges to the opposite side, causing pain and sometimes partial hearing loss, called barotrauma. Learn how to prevent hearing loss.
Normally, the Eustachian tube (a tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat behind the nose) equates the pressure in the middle ear with that of the outside air, allowing air to enter the middle ear. When your ears are “popped” when you yawn or swallow, your Eustachian tubes are regulating the air pressure in your middle ear.
But in children, the relatively narrow Eustachian tubes may not work as well, especially if they are blocked due to swelling and mucus (in ear infections and colds), enlarged or swollen tonsils and adenoids. In any case, the pain or hearing problems associated with these types of situations are usually mild and temporary in nature; they usually subside within minutes and do not cause any lasting injury. In some cases, a child may be in pain for several hours at a time if his ears are not unclogged. Occasionally, extreme changes in air pressure cause the middle ear to fill with fluid or blood, and can even cause