COVID can cause many nasty symptoms beyond what it does to the respiratory system. Extreme fatigue and problems with cognitive functioning are common even months after recovering from an infection. But could COVID also damage your hearing?
Research has revealed a possible link between COVID and an increased incidence of hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo.
Researchers at the University of Manchester and NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre analysed data from 24 studies of COVID patients. They found COVID was related to tinnitus (permanent ringing in the ears) in 14.8 per cent of cases, vertigo (dizziness and balance issues caused by the inner ear) in 7.2 per cent of cases and general hearing loss in 7.6 per cent of cases.
But before you add hearing issues to the list of health concerns related to the pandemic, the researchers themselves classed the data they were looking at as just “fair”.
“There is an urgent need for a carefully conducted clinical and diagnostic study to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the auditory system,” says Professor Kevin Munro, co-author of the study.
“It is also well known that viruses such as measles, mumps and meningitis can cause hearing loss; little is understood about the auditory effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“Though this review provides further evidence for an association, the studies we looked at were of varying quality, so more work needs to be done.”
Prof. Munro is also conducting a year-long study into those who have been hospitalised with severe COVID-19 and its effects on the auditory system.
Towards the end of 2020, rare cases began to emerge in the UK and Iran of COVID patients developing sudden and permanent hearing loss. One patient in Egypt was even reported to have presented with sudden hearing loss but no typical symptoms of COVID. After a test was taken as a precaution, he was found to be positive.
These instances of COVID-related hearing loss remain rare for the moment. In another study, researchers at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel found no conclusive evidence of any link between the virus and hearing loss.
“Our study explored whether COVID-19 can cause permanent neural or sensory damage to the hearing system. We found no evidence for such damage,” says Dr Amiel Dror, co-author of that study.
“We measured electrical data from the brain stem to test the entire route of soundwaves through the ear until electric waves are ultimately received in the brain.
“We also examined the activity of the inner ear hair cells that intensify and tune the sound. We found no difference between the COVID-19-positive subjects and the control group.”
Hopefully, damage to your hearing is a rare occurrence after a COVID infection and won’t be added to the list of symptoms of ‘long COVID’.
Long COVID sufferers experience debilitating symptoms weeks or even months after the initial COVID infection subsides. The most common symptoms of long COVID include fatigue, shortness of breath, memory and concentration problems, insomnia and an elevated heart rate.
It’s estimated that around 5 per cent of those who contract COVID will still experience symptoms months later. The pain of the pandemic may be with us for much longer than we’d hoped.
Are you concerned about the effects of COVID on your hearing? Have you experienced any of the symptoms of long COVID? Let us know in the comments section below.
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