Concussions have garnered worldwide attention for their effects on players in the NFL, professional boxers, and their relations to sudden deaths, making them a dangerous reality for many athletes and recreation enthusiasts. In fact, the CDC estimates between 1.6-3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur every year. With such a high volume of cases, this clinical conundrum has fascinated doctors and scientists with its ability to cause lasting brain damage even when patients have “recovered” from their concussive symptoms. With your brain having a critical role in auditory processing and translation, Dr. Nina Kraus, PhD, set out to explore the relationship between brain damage, concussions, and their lasting imprint on the auditory system. This 2017 study reviewed 50 collegiate football players and the effects concussions have had on their auditory processing ability, further compounding the importance of concussion prevention and safety in sports.
What is a Concussion?
Caused by a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to be jostled rapidly inside of the skull, concussions are mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) that can permanently change how the brain functions. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, including nausea, headache, fatigue, or memory, and cognitive complications. Though it is dangerous to suffer from just one concussion, the effects can be cumulative in athletes who return to the field before completely recovering, raising the risks of serious and irreversible injury or even death. With 10% of all contact sport athletes sustaining a concussion every year and 87% of all professional boxers experiencing a brain injury in their career, brain injury is the single largest contributor to sports-related fatalities.
With risks, this high, understanding how concussions affect the brain over time has been a vital focus of the medical community, including the Brain Injury Research Institute. Neuropathological studies have shown “punch drunk” boxers can often suffer from motor, speech, and cognitive complications, while post-mortem examinations of boxers’ brains have “revealed consistent neuropathology evocative of dementia, which aligned with their symptoms.”
How Concussions Can Damage Your Hearing
Research has shown consistent links between concussions and lasting brain damage that can affect cognitive motor, and speech skills, but can it affect your auditory system? Dr.Kraus and her team believe so. Utilizing a sensitive brain health test that uses sound to measure neural activity known as a Frequency-Following Response, Dr. Kraus had found that in collegiate football players that had suffered a concussion one to six years prior, their performance on an FFR was much lower than the general norm, ranking in the 20th percentile. This meant that players that had suffered a concussion had a distinct neural signature. Their response to the neural coding of the fundamental frequency of speech, otherwise known as the F0, was much smaller than 80% of the healthy population. Using an FFR, which utilizes sound, and receiving these results, may provide a link between subconcussive blows, brain damage, and hearing difficulty that was previously unknown.