Several viral infections (measles, mumps, meningitis) have effects on hearing and can cause transitory or permanent damage. The effects of COVID on hearing, however, have not been studied sufficiently enough to determine if the virus affects hearing too.
What we know about COVID-19 so far
SARS-Cov 2, or coronavirus, affects mainly the lungs, which is why some of the most damaging effects happen on the respiratory tract. We now know that some of the effects of the virus can last for several months and that it also affects blood clotting and neural systems. At this stage of the pandemic, we’re also witnessing the spread of new strains and variants. Each variant has different outcomes, and sometimes even varying symptoms, which makes it difficult for scientists to accurately pinpoint its effects on our overall health (aside from the respiratory and circulatory systems), and its lasting consequences.
Why do viral infections affect hearing?
The main reason why viral infections affect hearing is inflammation. Internal ear structures are extremely delicate and easily damaged. So when the body inflames due to an infection (viral, fungal or bacterial) these structures can break or tear, causing temporary or permanent hearing loss.
A study by the University of Manchester, one year into the pandemic
COVID-19, like other viral illnesses, can cause severe inflammation. Because it’s a “new” disease, scientists still lack a significant body of evidence to determine if it has effects on hearing. However, there’s emerging research that suggests it does. One study, conducted by the University of Manchester, ties COVID to tinnitus, hearing loss and vertigo. Previous research found links between COVID and Giullian Barre syndrome (which also causes auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder), which served as background information.
The study was published by the International Journal of Audiology and was titled “One Year On: An updated systematic review of SARS-Cov 2, COVID 19 and audio vestibular symptoms”. Some of its most interesting findings show that:
- 7.6% of the patients studied suffered from hearing loss
- 14.8% of patients experienced tinnitus
- 7.2% of patients reported rotatory vertigo
More data from surveys and other studies
Other UK surveys completed by recovered COVID patients show that nearly 1 in 10 of them self-reported some degree of hearing loss and tinnitus. There are other studies in Iran, Israel and the United States in which there’s evidence of ties between COVID and hearing problems, and there was one man in Egypt who reported sudden hearing loss and tested positive for COVID soon after.
Research surrounding patients who developed atypical symptoms and prolonged illness (COVID “long-haulers”) indicates that over a third of them suffered from vertigo and dizziness.
There’s also evidence that suggests medications such as quinines and chloroquine have a high risk of hearing-related problems such as dizziness or ringing in the ears.
COVID-19 and its newer variants continue to pose important questions that the scientific and medical community need to answer. Several studies are currently in progress, but new strains will require more research. As of today, there’s no significant evidence to tie COVID-19 to serious hearing problems, but data suggests it does have an impact on hearing health.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19 by wearing a mask every time you leave your home, washing your hands constantly and avoiding unnecessary social contacts. If it’s available to you, consider getting vaccinated. Remember that prevention is always a better alternative than treatment. If you experience any COVID-19 symptoms, please get tested as soon as possible.
For more information about treatments for hearing problems get in contact with London’s leading ear care clinic, our experienced team of professionals can help you get the care you need.