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New Study Shows Link Between COVID-19, Hearing Loss & Tinnitus

Peter Lucier, HIS

In 2020 when cases of COVID-19 began to rapidly spread around the world. It has been a long journey since then discovering how this virus works, how it spreads, its short-term effects across different populations, and its long-term effect. Thanks to efforts from medical experts around the world we are now in better understanding of this virus and how to treat it. One symptom which researchers are witnessing more and more is tinnitus

Understanding Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a buzzing, ringing, humming, or any sound that is heard without an external source in one or both ears. While tinnitus is not a devastating condition, it can cause irritation, anxiety, and even insomnia, contributing to greater health issues. While most forms of tinnitus come and go, The Hearing Health Foundation reports that at least 10% of people in the U.S. experience tinnitus chronically. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the public — over 50 million Americans — experience some form of tinnitus however only around 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while 2 million debilitating cases, which interrupt sleep and lead to issues focusing during the day. The presence of tinnitus in some COVID-19 patients may indicate that the virus may cause damage to the inner ears, causing permanent hearing impairment.

Research Linking Coronavirus & Tinnitus

Though tinnitus is not listed as a Covid-19 symptom by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers are discovering more and more instances of tinnitus accompanying COVID-19 cases. An article published in the New York Times titled: Some Covid-19 Patients Say They’re Left With Ringing Ears, explored the prevalence of these coexisting health issues. The article explored two important studies, linking the conditions:

 

Journal of International Audiology

In this study published in March of 2021, researchers evaluated 60 patients with Covid-19 and determined that 15% of study participants had tinnitus. Professor of audiology at the University of Manchester and co-author of the study Kevin Munro, explained, that while the testing pool was small, he continued to receive almost 100 emails after the study was published, from people letting him know they also had tinnitus symptoms which became present post COVID-19 infection. “we already know that viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss.’ explains Munro. “Coronaviruses can damage the nerves that carry information to and from the brain.” 

 

Frontiers in Public Health Journal

The second study was published in 2020 had a much larger research pool, which surveyed 3,100 people with tinnitus. From the survey 237 people experienced COVID-19, and 40% reported that tinnitus was intensified during and after the COVID-19 virus.

 

Researchers noted that one way in which tinnitus could be exasperated by the virus is by increased stress. The stigma of having COVID-19 alone can be incredibly stressful along with the stress of isolation, quarantining, and time off work affecting income. While stress doesn’t necessarily cause tinnitus, it often makes symptoms much worse.

 

Managing Tinnitus

Tinnitus is one of the most common health issues in the US and is uncurable. It is often associated with a sign that you have sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by many factors such as exposure to noise, impact on the head, old age, and some medications. It occurs when the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear, which deliver sound to the brain become damaged. The good news is that tinnitus can be treated to reduce symptoms and make them less noticeable.

 

Stress Reduction: Because tinnitus is increased by stress, it is important to minimize stress as much as possible. Many find that meditation, yoga, and regular exercise decrease stress and improve mood and health in the process.

 

Masking Tinnitus: Often it’s when we experience quiet when tinnitus is the most noticeable. Therefore tinnitus often interferes with people falling asleep and staying focused on tasks. However, white noise machines or other ambient sounds can mask the buzz of tinnitus while you sleep. You can also try features on hearing aids that mask the frequencies of tinnitus during the day.

 

Protect Your Hearing

While hearing loss and tinnitus are not always connected, approximately 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss. Hearing loss can be extremely stressful and sometimes using hearing aids can lower symptoms of tinnitus. If you have tinnitus, it could certainly indicate a hearing loss. Schedule an appointment today. We can help you keep your tinnitus under control and identify any hearing issues that could be present.