In the last few years, many of us can relate to the communication difficulties when wearing face masks. As an audiologist, it has been challenging to communicate with hard-of-hearing patients through mask use. And indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has made a significant impact on the health of millions around the globe. Hearing clinics stayed busy during the pandemic, with some patients becoming more acutely aware of their hearing loss due to mask use. In contrast, others reported their hearing loss started after vaccination or illness. In addition, the virus has caused a range of symptoms—from mild to severe—with some reporting fatigue, respiratory concerns, hearing loss, dizziness, or tinnitus, among other symptoms. This article will examine the relationship between Covid-19, tinnitus, and other hearing-related symptoms.
Covid-19 Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
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Hearing Loss After Covid Vaccine
While hearing loss is not listed as a common side effect of the Covid-19 vaccine, there have been anecdotal reports of hearing loss following vaccination. But is there a documentable relationship between the vaccine and the development of hearing loss? Some hypothesize it may be related to the immune system reacting to the vaccine, but more research is required to understand the relationship fully.
As an audiologist, I believe looking at the evidence before drawing conclusions from anecdotes is essential. For example, in one recent JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery study, the incidence of sudden hearing loss following Covid-19 vaccination is no higher than that found in the general population. The study examined 555 cases of SSNHL according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System. Another JAMA study examining 5.5 million Finnish residents, a much higher sample size, found no higher incidence of SSNHL after Covid-19 vaccination than in the general population.
Tinnitus as a Symptom of Covid-19
Tinnitus refers to a ringing or buzzing sensation in the ear. While it is not a common symptom of Covid-19, some patients have reported developing tinnitus after contracting the virus. The pathophysiology of tinnitus following Covid-19 needs to be better understood. Researchers hypothesize tinnitus may be related to inflammation caused by Covid-19 in the body. However, a European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology study found that two out of 155 Covid-19 patients reported tinnitus.
Earaches as a Symptom of Covid-19
Like other upper respiratory infections, symptoms can include sinus congestion and pressure in the ears, leading to earaches. While not specific to the virus, scientists are still studying how the virus impacts the ear. But it is thought that it can cause inflammation and swelling in the ear canal, leading to earaches.
Dizziness or Vertigo and Covid-19
Vertigo is a rotary motion or room-spinning sensation commonly related to the inner ear. Dizziness can be perceived as lightheadedness or other feelings related to circulatory or cardiovascular-related causes. However, vertigo or dizziness can result due to a misfiring in connection between the inner ear and brain. In addition, upper respiratory or viral infections can cause changes in hearing or vertigo. Therefore, while not specific to Covid-19, vertigo or dizziness are possible symptoms of Covid-19.
Hearing Loss From Covid Medications
Some medications used to treat Covid-19 have been linked to hearing loss as a side effect. For example, hydroxychloroquine can cause hearing loss, tinnitus, or dizziness. Other antiviral medications used to treat symptoms of Covid-19 can also cause hearing loss. And it's important to note that, in this case, hearing loss does not stem from the virus but rather from the medication used to treat the symptoms.
Covid's Long-Term Impacts on Hearing
Scientists still do not understand much about the virus's long-term impacts on hearing. Some patients have reported ongoing hearing loss or tinnitus even after their recovery from Covid-19. While research is still developing on this topic, what we know currently comes primarily from our knowledge of other idiopathic hearing losses or viral etiology. Essentially, sudden hearing loss should be evaluated and treated immediately. In addition, a physician may prescribe a course of steroids, which can help to restore hearing in some cases.
Some patients report difficulty processing information, which results in hearing difficulty. Again, as research grows, more information will be known on the virus symptoms, including brain fog or concentration difficulty. In addition, hearing difficulty can come from other conditions, such as auditory processing disorder or ADHD. As a result, it is essential to rule out hearing loss as a contributing factor and further evaluate or rule out other health conditions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our lives in ways we could not have imagined. Over time, research will collect more information about how long-Covid and other effects of Covid-19. As we continue to learn about the virus, it is essential to understand how the virus can affect our hearing. If you or someone you know experiences hearing-related symptoms after getting Covid-19, seeking medical attention promptly is critical.