Is Tinnitus Common After A Car Accident?
March 26, 2021

Just had an accident? Do you have a strange ringing in your ear? There is no cause for alarm. It’s common with most accident victims.

Bruises and cuts are not the only damage that car accidents can cause your body. There are other internal damages that you may not know occurred until you begin to experience certain symptoms. Tinnitus is a product of such internal injuries sustained during an accident.

Tinnitus is a medical condition that causes you to hear sounds or noise in your ear without any external noise source. The sound can be a ringing, whooshing, hissing, or clicking sound. Tinnitus occurs when the normal functioning of the ear is interrupted, and different factors, including car accidents, can cause this disruption of function.

Symptoms of Tinnitus

In most cases, you may not experience tinnitus right after a car accident. This is because tinnitus is not diagnosed in the emergency room. The diagnosis of tinnitus is always based on symptoms, and you may not experience the symptoms until after a few days or weeks.

The first medical attention you get right after an accident is often focused on treating visible injuries and taking you through scans to ensure there is no internal bleeding or damage to a major organ. Not much attention is given to the ear during this time, except there is an obvious symptom like bleeding from the ear.

While it's easy for doctors not to diagnose tinnitus right after an accident, it is even easier for you not to notice that your hearing has been affected. Just like the doctors, your focus will be on the injuries or pain you are experiencing at the moment.

But the fact that tinnitus was not diagnosed does not mean the accident didn't affect your hearing. A few hours or days after the accident, you may begin to experience the following symptoms of tinnitus:

  • Noise in your ear in the absence of any external source of the noise.
  • Partial or total hearing loss
  • Nasal congestion
  • Earache or ear pain
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping.

Types of Accidents with Tinnitus Risks

The nature or degree of an accident can determine how much damage is done to your body. In most cases, the major cause of injuries and tinnitus during an accident is the collision’s force or impact. The most common types of accidents that cause tinnitus are those that are violent.

In some cases, however, accidents with minor impact can cause tinnitus. In this case, the tinnitus was not caused by the contact of your head with an object, but by the sudden movement of your head back and forth, which causes some nerves and ligaments to tear and results in tinnitus.

Below are some types of car accidents that can cause tinnitus of varying degrees.

1. Head-on Collision

A head-on collision is also known as a frontal car crash; when cars are driving in opposite directions, they crash into front to front. Head-on collisions are more likely to cause serious damage and fatality. Head-on collisions account for 10 percent of deadly accidents yearly.

When a head-on collision occurs, your body is propelled forward; you keep moving forward until you hit a part of the car, the airbag, or the seat belt. This sudden movement and impact can harm your body in different ways.

Your ribcage may be broken, your collar bone fractured, or your lungs may collapse. You may also experience whiplash, which can cause tinnitus. Other damage or injuries you may experience during a head-on collision include herniated disc, traumatic brain injuries, torn muscles, tendons and ligaments, spinal injuries, and broken neck.

2. T-bone Accident

A T-bone accident happens when the front of a vehicle bumps into the side of another vehicle forming a letter T shape at the point of impact. T-bone accidents often occur at intersections when one driver beats the stop sign and drives through the intersection, crashing into another vehicle traversing the intersection.

The effect of a T-bone accident is often more serious than those sustained in fender bender accidents.
Common injuries sustained during T-Bone accidents include concussion, whiplash, which is caused by the forceful back and forth movement of the neck, broken bones, spinal cord injury, and paralysis. The whiplash and concussion that is sustained during the T-Bone accident can cause varying degrees of tinnitus.

3. Rollover Accident

A rollover accident occurs when a vehicle tips over onto its side or it rolls over entirely until it is upside down. While rollover accidents are rare, they are deadly. The accident may involve one car or multiple vehicles.

There are two types of rollover accidents; tripped rollovers and untripped rollovers. Tripped rollovers are often single-car rollover accidents; they happen when a vehicle veers off the road is tripped over by an object.

Untripped rollovers are rare, and they occur when there is a collision of two vehicles coming from different directions. In most cases, one of the vehicles may be maneuvering or swerving to avoid colliding with a vehicle that suddenly got in the way.

Rollover accidents can be caused by loss of control due to speeding, inadequate tire grip due to worn tires, too much tire grip, drunk driving, or overloaded vehicle.

Injuries that can be sustained from rollover accidents include internal organ injustices, lacerations, and cuts, head and neck injuries which can cause tinnitus, arm and leg injuries, fractures, spinal injuries, and whiplash injuries. Whiplash injuries can also cause tinnitus.

4. Rear-end Accident

A rear-end collision is also referred to as shunt or rear end. It occurs when a vehicle crashes into another vehicle in front of it.

This type of accident is often caused by a distracted driver, sudden or panic stops, reduced traction caused by worn pavement or wet weather, tailgating, or brake failure.

Whiplash injuries are one of the most common injuries sustained during a rear-end collision. Skull and brain injuries, neck injuries, facial injuries, back and spinal injuries, and broken bones and fractured ribs are other injuries caused by rear-end collision.

What causes Tinnitus after a car accident

Different factors can cause tinnitus after an accident. It can be caused by the force of the impact, the loud noise from the crash or airbag, and it can also be caused by physical contact between your body and an object or by trauma.

If you experienced two or more of these during an accident, it might be hard to identify exactly which of the events caused the tinnitus. In most cases, tinnitus is a cumulative effect of all the events that happened during the accident.

Below are some major causes of tinnitus after a car accident.

1.Airbag Deployment

This is one of the most common causes of tinnitus in accident victims. Airbags were created to reduce death rates during accidents, and so far, they have been very effective. Accident victims in cars without airbags often suffer more damage than those with airbags. There are, however, risks associated with airbag deployment, and one of such risks is tinnitus.

When car accidents happen, the airbags are deployed in milliseconds between when the airbag controller senses the collision and when you slammed into the steering wheel. The combination of the explosive deployment force and the deployment speed, which is about 200miles per hour, generates a noise that can damage your ears.

One of the major causes of tinnitus is constant or sudden exposure to loud noise. Hearing problems caused by loud noise or sound are referred to as acoustic trauma. The noise generated during airbag deployment is higher than the normal sound level threshold.

The sound pressure generated by an airbag deployment is about 178 decibels. This is about twenty percent higher than the sound level that can cause permanent hearing loss. This is even higher than the noise level in a crowded stadium which is about 130 decibels.

The sudden change in pressure and exposure to loud noise can damage the inner ear hair cells. Inner ear hair cells are responsible for hearing and balance. They detect changes in pressure and send signals to your brain; these signals are interpreted as sound or noise.

Sudden or long-term exposure to noise can cause these inner ear hair cells to bend or break. When this happens, the hair cells begin to send random signals to the brain; this results in tinnitus. If the noise makes the hair cells bend, tinnitus will be temporary. Once the hair cells straighten up, their proper functioning will be restored, and the tinnitus will disappear.

If, however, the noise broke or damaged the hair cells, the damage is permanent because damaged hair cells cannot be repaired, neither will new ones grow; this will leave you permanent tinnitus.

Aside from the damage to the inner ear hair cells, the explosion or deployment of the airbag can also cause the eardrum to rupture and fracture the tiny bones in the ear. This results in a sudden loss of balance, dizziness, hearing loss, or tinnitus.

Other injuries associated with airbag deployment include broken bones, facial cuts, spinal injuries caused by the sudden backward movement of the head, whiplash injuries, broken ribs, and in some cases, blindness.

2. Traumatic Brain Injury / Head Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury, also known as intracranial injuries, is an injury to the brain caused by an external force like a blow, jolt, or bump to the head, which disrupts the brain’s normal functioning.

During a car accident, there is a sudden forward movement of the head, which results in hitting the head against the steering wheel or the airbag. When this happens, the function of the brain can be affected. In some cases, an object in the car can pierce the car and enter the brain tissue.

Traumatic Brain Injury is characterized by loss of vision, change in speech, memory loss, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, and tinnitus.

Tinnitus caused by traumatic brain injury occurs when there is a disruption of the ear’s nerve networks. This disruption causes a rewiring of the brain's tone map, causing some dormant nerve clusters in the brain to become active.

This causes signals being sent from the inner ear to the brain to be redirected through a route that is not meant to interpret auditory information. The transmission of sound signals through these nerves makes them sensitive to sound and creates ringing sounds in the ear.

Also, trauma or injury to the head can affect blood flow to the auditory nerve, auditory pathway, and inner ear; this can cause tinnitus.

Tinnitus caused by head injury can be temporary or permanent depending on the degree of damage and medical intervention’s promptness. If a traumatic brain injury is not given prompt medical attention, it can lead to death in some cases,

3. Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck injury caused by rapid and forceful back and forth movement of the neck like a whip’s cracking. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained in nonfatal accidents.

The head’s sudden movement causes the neck’s ligaments and muscles to be extended beyond their normal range of motion; this results in a tear.

In most cases, whiplash is not caused by the car’s speed; rather, it is caused by the sudden jolt caused by impact or airbag deployment. The tendency of having a whiplash injury is higher when you are putting on a seatbelt because the restricting of the trunk by the seat belt causes more cervical injuries.

Whiplash during an accident can cause tinnitus. The sudden forward and backward movement of the head and neck can force the moth to suddenly open and close; this causes the elongation and compression of the temporomandibular joint resulting in temporomandibular joint disorder, which is a major cause of tinnitus.

The sudden movement of the head can also cause damage to nerves and ligaments in the head. If the auditory nerve which is responsible for hearing is damaged, you may experience tinnitus.

Other factors like collision impact, concussion, trauma, and blood pressure increase can cause tinnitus after a car accident.


You must seek medical attention immediately after a car accident, no matter how mild the accident appears. As stated earlier, tinnitus may not be diagnosed right after the accident. If you begin to experience any of the symptoms we discussed above, days or hours after a car accident, report to your doctor immediately.

The presence of tinnitus is a sign that something is wrong in your body, and the sooner the root cause is identified and treated, the lesser the damage done to your hearing. In some cases, delaying medical help doesn't just affect your hearing; it can affect other aspects of your health.

Have you ever experienced tinnitus after a car accident? How long after the accident did you notice the symptoms of tinnitus? Share your experience with us in the comment section.

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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