What are football players at risk of losing when playing to win?
August usually means a handful of things: It’s the last leg of summer, school is quickly approaching, and football is finally back. The return of football means many of us won’t leave our couches on Sundays (or Saturdays, depending on if you’re an NFL or college fan, or — well, let’s be honest, both!), but it also means more debate over just how dangerous the sport is.
According to ear surgeon John Leonetti, a Loyola University Medical Center doctor, retired NFL players may be at risk for more than just the effects of concussions, broken bones, and torn ligaments. According to Leonetti, they may also be at risk for permanent hearing loss and tinnitus due to repeated brain trauma.
Leonetti says there are two possible mechanisms by which repeated blows to the head could cause hearing damage: A heavy blow to the head can cause the brain to jiggle, potentially damaging the nerves that connect the brain to the inner ear; and a blow to the head can also create a shock wave powerful enough to damage the cochlea, which is responsible for sending hearing signals to the brain.
According to a study done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine on the management of temporal bone trauma, “the temporal bones are paired structures located on the lateral aspects of the skull and contribute to the skull base. Trauma is usually the result of blunt head injury and can result in damage to the brain and meninges, the middle and internal ear, and the facial nerve. Complications can include intracranial hemorrhage, cerebral contusion, CSF leak and meningitis, hearing loss, vertigo, and facial paralysis.”
The study points out crucial actions to help prevent complications. It states, “Diagnosis followed by appropriate medical and surgical management is critical. Diagnosis relies primarily on physical signs and symptoms as well as radiographic imaging. Emergent intervention is required in situations involving herniation of the brain into the middle-ear cavity or hemorrhage of the intratemporal carotid artery. Patients with declining facial nerve function are candidates for early surgical intervention. Conductive hearing loss can be corrected surgically as an elective procedure, while sensorineural hearing loss carries a poor prognosis, regardless of management approach. Children generally recover from temporal bone trauma with fewer complications than adults and experience a markedly lower incidence of facial nerve paralysis.”
Though there has been no published study involving football players and hearing loss, Leonetti says the anecdotal evidence alone should be sufficient to convince someone to conduct a study to determine if rates of hearing damage are indeed higher. Regardless, it is important to remember that hearing loss is usually the result of repeated instances of trauma, so protecting the ears from damage means fewer health risks down the road. And the right kind of protection is the kind that fits you comfortably, creating a seal that only custom-fit hearing protection can provide.
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