It’s been just a little over a year since the world as we’ve known it changed due to COVID-19. This highly contagious virus has changed how we do business and how we connect to friends. We are learning so much as a world community on how to protect each other by keeping distance and limiting our interactions. We are also learning more and more about the nature of this virus every day, how to control it, prevent it and lasting side effects. COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, has been connected to many lingering symptoms, after the initial infection has passed. Some of these complications include lung and heart damage as well as neurological disorders. For those who are concerned about hearing health, studies are being conducted to determine if COVID-19 has any long-lasting effects on people’s hearing ability.
Coronavirus and sudden hearing loss
While we are still learning about the nature of COVID-19 we do know that similar viral and bacterial infections have been known to cause sudden hearing loss. While previous coronaviruses have not had an effect on hearing, COVID-19 is much more contagious and symptoms more severe than previous strains. The Hearing Loss Association of America describes Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), “as an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing—usually in one ear—either at once or over several days” There has been an isolated report from Iran in which a patient experienced sudden hearing loss in one ear, upon contracting COVID-19 in June of 2020. In another isolated report from Egypt a patient suffered from sudden hearing loss, with no other symptom of coronavirus and tested positive
Hearing loss, and tinnitus
Tinnitus, (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss commonly are linked due to damage of the inner ear. In some rare instances researchers have found examples of developing hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo after the patient has gotten over the initial coronavirus infection. Often these symptoms develop weeks after COVID-19 has been survived. A February 2021 report on auditory complications related to COVID-19 found that 7.6% of COVID survivors report hearing loss, 14.8% report tinnitus and 7.2% report vertigo. Much more research is needed to fully understand the extent of damage to the inner ear, residually causing these symptoms.
Case studies on COVID-19 and auditory damage
While a large study has yet to be conducted on COVID’s impact on the auditory system a survey form the UK found that about 1 out of 10 coronavirus patients self-reported either hearing loss or tinnitus 8 weeks after infection. While this is alarming, these symptoms could be related to many other factors including reaction to medications that could be ototoxic. Some medications used to treat the coronavirus such as quinine, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are considered ototoxic. This means that they have the potential to damage the inner ear, causing hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. The authors of this study reported “High-quality studies are needed to investigate the acute effects of COVID-19, as well as for understanding long-term risks, on the audio-vestibular system,”
Another study from Israel examined 16 patients, half who had tested positive for Asymptomatic COVID-19 and half tested negative. The scientists used tests known as otoacoustic emissions (OAE) and auditory brainstem response (ABR) measurements to evaluate auditory function and found no difference in the two groups as far as impacts on the auditory nerve. The researchers are planning a much larger study to determine more data on this matter. The study reported that “These antiviral medications have known adverse events, including tinnitus and hearing loss, and the symptoms may be misdiagnosed as being caused by COVID-19,”
Rapidly updated findings on COVID-19
We are learning more and more about this virus as we struggle to understand all of its impacts. While initial findings have not been widely connected, there has been increasing research which has found that loss of hearing may be a strong indicator of a COVID-19 infection.
While we are rapidly learning more about how this virus affects our hearing, it is important to be alert and aware if a change in your hearing suddenly occurs and take action. Take these symptoms seriously and seek a medical professional as soon as possible.
If you have experienced changes in your hearing, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.