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The connection between COVID-19 and Tinnitus

COVID-19 and tinnitus
Throughout the pandemic, we have learned to recognize the signs of COVID-19. Cough, fever, and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms to watch out for. But one recent study has uncovered another symptom of the illness that can affect patients long term. A significant number of COVID-19 patients reported changes in their hearing, and one notable change in hearing is tinnitus.

Tinnitus research and COVID-19

Kevin Munro, a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester, interviewed 139 patients hospitalized for COVID 19. Eight weeks after recovery, 13 patients reported changes in their hearing, including tinnitus and hearing loss, according to the report, published in WebMD. Additionally, some patients reported worsening of their pre-existing hearing loss.

This suggests a possible link between COVID-19 and the inner ear. He suggests that more research should be conducted to understand exactly how this virus affects hearing.

Read more: Ask Anna: Does COVID-19 cause hearing loss?

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often described as ‘ringing in the ear.’

However, it may also present as clicking, buzzing, or whooshing sounds. These sounds may come and go or be constant. Tinnitus is usually subjective, meaning that only by the affected individual can hear it. In less common cases, tinnitus can be objective. A medical professional may be able to hear it through a stethoscope, though this is rare. Tinnitus affects a significant portion of the population and may cause stress and frustration to those affected.

Read more: Tinnitus

How does COVID-19 cause tinnitus?

It is not uncommon for a virus to cause tinnitus. Past reports show that viruses like the coronavirus can cause a condition called auditory neuropathy. This condition affects the auditory nerve, which sends information from the inner ear to the brain. As a result, a patient can experience hearing changes such as tinnitus.

Tinnitus has also been reported by individuals outside Dr. Munro’s study. Some COVID-19 patients who have experienced long-term illness have taken to social media and are sharing their stories. They’ve dubbed themselves “long haulers” because of the extensive length of their illness. Among the usual COVID symptoms, they also experience tinnitus, hearing loss, and vertigo. These unpleasant effects are usually associated with the inner ear.

“We already know that viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss,” Dr. Munro says in the WebMD article. “Coronaviruses can damage the nerves that carry information to and from the brain.”

He agrees that COVID-19 causing tinnitus is entirely possible. Because of this, protecting yourself from COVID-19 may be an important part of taking care of your hearing health.

Next steps

We now know that protecting ourselves from COVID can help prevent future hearing problems. This is especially important for those of us already living with a hearing condition. In order to avoid infection, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends establishing a routine of good hygiene and awareness. This includes washing your hands often, avoiding close physical contact with others, and using a protective face covering whenever possible.

In any case, if you find yourself or a loved one experiencing tinnitus, it’s important to see an ENT (otolaryngologist) to investigate its cause. Additionally, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist. Since tinnitus and hearing loss are related, it’s important to rule out any underlying hearing conditions.

Other common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Earwax blocking the ear canal
  • Sudden or long-term exposure to loud noises
  • Ototoxic drugs that damage the ear
  • Head trauma such as a concussion or a fracture
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Stress and anxiety

While there is no cure for tinnitus, it is manageable with proper treatment. Sound therapy, hearing aids, certain medications, and stress management can be successful in reducing tinnitus. Contact a hearing professional to find out more about how you can manage your tinnitus.

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Author Details
Isabella is a young adult with a passion for Deaf community advocacy, scientific research, and education. She has Moderately-Severe bilateral hearing loss, and uses two Phonak Sky Marvel hearing aids and a Roger FM system. Isabella is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas, a career inspired by her interest in hearing technology. Proudly raised in Mexico and currently living in Austin, United States, she communicates through Spanish, English, and American Sign Language. You can keep up with Isabella through her Instagram blog, @DeafLoud, where she documents her experiences with hearing loss and Autism.
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Isabella is a young adult with a passion for Deaf community advocacy, scientific research, and education. She has Moderately-Severe bilateral hearing loss, and uses two Phonak Sky Marvel hearing aids and a Roger FM system. Isabella is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas, a career inspired by her interest in hearing technology. Proudly raised in Mexico and currently living in Austin, United States, she communicates through Spanish, English, and American Sign Language. You can keep up with Isabella through her Instagram blog, @DeafLoud, where she documents her experiences with hearing loss and Autism.
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