Tinnitus — or ringing in the ear — and even hearing loss may be linked to some cases of long-term COVID-19, a troubling new study reveals.
The research found that 14.8 percent of people infected by the bug suffer from tinnitus, 7.6 percent have experienced hearing loss and 7.2 percent developed vertigo, the sensation of spinning.
University of Manchester audiologists Professor Kevin Munro, director of the Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness, and PhD researcher Ibrahim Almufarrij found 56 studies that identified a link between COVID-19 and auditory and vestibular problems, according to Sky News.
The vestibular sensory system includes parts of the inner ear and brain that processes information involved with controlling balance and spatial orientation.
“If it is correct that something between 7 percent and 15 percent is having these symptoms, that’s something we should take very seriously,” Munro, who pooled data from 24 of the studies, told the news outlet.
“There are big implications for clinical services if this means there could be a big increase in the number of people coming forward,” added Munro, whose findings were published in the International Journal of Audiology.
A patient gets a COVID-19 test in Boston on Feb. 23, 2021.John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Auditory problems may be caused by multiple viruses, including measles, mumps and meningitis, that damage sensory cells in the inner ear — but it is unclear why COVID-19 also can cause these issues.
“There are some people who say the symptoms are ongoing. There are others who say it seems to have settled down a bit, so there are lots of unknowns right now,” Munro told Sky News.
The recent suicide of Texas Roadhouse founder and CEO Kent Taylor, who suffered from long-term COVID-19, has focused attention on auditory problems linked to the deadly bug.
Recent studies on COVID-19 suggest the virus may be linked to hearing issues.Getty Images/iStockphoto
Paul Johnson, 53, who was admitted to a hospital in December with COVID-19, has suffered from tinnitus ever since.
“It is a persistent, very high-pitched whistle that you hear,” he told Sky News.
“Something that I could liken it to would be if you have water running through a pipe, going through a valve, but you turn it just slightly so you get a sort of ‘shh’ — a whistle sound, but it’s a much higher frequency than that,” he added.
Johnson said he first noticed the irritating sound two weeks before he was admitted and that it has grown worse.
“You do notice it very much at night, when there’s no noise surrounding you, there’s no noise in the background, the TV’s off, and you’ve got this constant whistling noise,” he told the outlet.
“I think at the moment I would regard it as manageable. I can’t say it keeps me awake but I certainly hope it doesn’t get any louder or any more noticeable,” Johnson added.
The researchers’ data primarily used self-reported questionnaires or medical records to obtain COVID-19-related symptoms, rather than the more scientifically reliable hearing tests.
Auditory problems may be caused by multiple viruses, including measles, mumps and meningitis, that damage sensory cells in the inner ear – but it is unclear why COVID-19 also can cause these issues.Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Munro suggested that tinnitus also can be caused by actual ear damage from noise or infection, as well as psychological triggers such as stress and anxiety.
So although there may be reasonable hypotheses demonstrating how COVID-19 could directly damage a person’s hearing, he said the current evidence is not of a good enough quality to prove causality, according to New Atlas.
“It is possible the virus attacks and damages the auditory system,” he said. “On the other hand, the mental and emotional stress of the pandemic may be the trigger. But we need to be careful when interpreting these findings as it’s not always clear if studies are reporting existing or new symptoms. What is lacking are good-quality studies that compare tinnitus in people with and without COVID-19.”
They are now carrying out a more detailed clinical study that they hope will accurately estimate the number and severity of coronavirus-related auditory disorders in the UK.