Ask the Doc: Can a concussion affect hearing and vision?

Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, a physical therapist for the Fort Drum Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Clinic, New York, uses a model of the inner ear on Feb. 27, 2019, to demonstrate how a concussion can cause inner ear, or vestibular, damage which may result in dizziness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, balance problems and irritability to name a few. (Photo: Warren W. Wright Jr., Fort Drum MEDDAC)
Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, a physical therapist for the Fort Drum Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Clinic, New York, uses a model of the inner ear on Feb. 27, 2019, to demonstrate how a concussion can cause inner ear, or vestibular, damage which may result in dizziness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, balance problems and irritability to name a few. (Photo: Warren W. Wright Jr., Fort Drum MEDDAC)

Ask the Doc: Can a concussion affect hearing and vision?

Ask the Doc Team

Dear Doc: A few weeks ago, I fell and hit my head but didn't think much about it.

Afterwards, I started to get terrible headaches. Then, I started to have blurry vision and ringing in my ears.

When I finally went to the doctor, she told me I had a concussion.

I didn't know concussions could affect hearing and vision. Is it typical to have hearing and vision problems from a concussion?

Thanks in advance doc!

-Army Spc. Sandra Headstone

Dear My Head Hurts: First, let me say I feel your pain, no matter how you hit your head or were jolted.

Concussions can cause a variety of brain-related issues, including vision and hearing problems. They are classified as a mild Traumatic Brain Injury.

I found the perfect people to talk about this. I contacted Amy Boudin-George, an audiologist and acting section lead at the Hearing Center of Excellence'sHearing Center of Excellence website clinical care, rehabilitation, and restoration section. HCE also provided me with Karen Lambert, clinical physical therapist, HCE vestibular program manager.

I also contacted Dr. Felix Barker, the associate director for research at the Vision Center of ExcellenceVision Center of Excellence website. He is the director of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Here's what they said:

It is not uncommon to have hearing, vision, and balance related symptoms after a concussion.

Symptoms can vary during the acute phase (right after a concussion) from person to person.

The good news is that the typical headache and other symptoms from a concussion can resolve completely on their own over time.

Try to maintain an upbeat outlook and expect a full recovery from your concussion. Studies have shown those attitudes to be the greatest influences on positive outcomes.

If you feel you are not improving on a day-to-day basis, it might help to have your symptoms further evaluated by a provider who specializes in concussion assessment.

Sensitivity to light, blurry vision that comes and goes, double vision, and difficulty reading are post-concussion vision problems that can happen. Headaches with visual tasks, reduction or loss of visual field, and difficulties with eye movements also may happen.

If these seem to persist, you are very likely to benefit by seeing your optometrist or ophthalmologist for both immediate and longer term management of your vision problems.

The same is true for ringing in the ears.

You may have experienced damage to the structure and function of your ear, and you might have changes in the way your brain processes hearing. This depends on the nature of the injury.

If you have ringing in your ears that lasts longer than a few weeks and is constant, or you also seem to have some hearing loss, it is a good idea to see an audiologist for a hearing assessment.

If you are having problems with dizziness, get an examination by an audiologist, optometrist or physical therapist that specializes in assessment of the vestibular system (your inner ear's balance and gaze stability system). This may help you find your path to recovery.

Spc. Headstone, I hope you got some positive answers from our experts. Remember, for the most part, concussions get better on their own as long as you can stand the temporary side effects. But don't ignore those symptoms if they don't go away. Seek help from specialized health care professionals who have your hearing and vision at heart.

Also, be careful when outside and wear a helmet and other protective gear if it fits the activity. Concussions not only can happen at home from a fall or bump of the head, but also from sports and military training.

If you feel unwell after a fall or jolt, don't wait to get help.

Good luck my friend and as always…take care out there!

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