Today it’s difficult to surprise someone with COVID-19 news. The coronavirus infection has changed the life of the whole world in just a year. We are all used to the quickly changing guidelines of limited access to various vocational as well as social environments.
These events have prompted many companies to relocate their employees to remote work. SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of Covid-19, has caused thousands of deaths, millions of people infected, and serious economic problems. No one could even imagine that such problems were possible just a few years ago. But today, we are faced with a new reality. Unfortunately, even after learning to manage the coronavirus epidemic, we will have to face various long term consequences and complications. What about hearing problems? Is there a connection between COVID-19 and hearing loss? Let’s take a look at what the research has to say about the problem.
Is COVID-19 causing hearing problems?
Recent studies confirm that SARS-CoV-2 causes various complications, some of which are particularly unpleasant:
We also know that many other viruses and bacteria can cause complications associated with hearing problems, including ringing in the ears. Could COVID-19 cause such difficulties? Let’s look at what the statistics tell us.
COVID-19 and balance problems
Some patients, who have been ill with COVID-19 for a long time, report atypical symptoms. They report pain in the ears, as well as dizziness and balance problems. Whether SARS-CoV-2 is the culprit for these symptoms is still unknown since there is not a single scientific study in this direction. However, these patients are called “covid long-haulers”. And they appear all over the world.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
Is there a link between sudden sensorineural hearing loss and COVID-19? It is a very rare occurrence according to published clinical studies. However, there are several reported cases where doctors first identified sudden sensorineural hearing loss in several Iranian patients. And already during treatment, they were diagnosed with COVID-19. This is even though sudden sensorineural hearing loss itself is an extremely unpleasant disorder that can lead to deafness.
Sudden hearing loss differs from other types of disorders in several ways at once – rapidity of development and idiopathic nature. In cases where the etiology of sudden hearing loss is not clear, a viral infection may be the cause!
Tinnitus and Coronavirus
In this case, the situation is much worse. Many patients with coronavirus complain of tinnitus. Unfortunately, we do not yet know if SARS-CoV-2 is to blame for this. Various reasons can lead to tinnitus, including the use of antiviral medications. Anecdotally, more and more patients are reporting the disturbing symptom of tinnitus following their recovery from COVID-19.
Hearing loss and COVID-19
Hearing loss as a later symptom is a fairly common phenomenon. So, according to a study conducted in the UK, 1 in 10 patients who have had COVID-19 complain of hearing loss. At the same time, a small percentage of people from the group also have tinnitus. Let’s face it, the results are pretty disappointing. The good news is that hearing impairment may not be directly related to COVID-19. We have yet to establish a causal relationship between coronavirus and hearing loss.
What about the auditory system?
Other data provide more questions than answers. For example, during the study of the deceased, doctors found traces of COVID-19 in the bone tissue of the middle ear. It turns out that the virus can penetrate even such hearing organs. Does this affect hearing ability? Not yet known. But there is one interesting study carried out by Israeli scientists. They used OAE and ABR tests to identify the link between COVID-19 and the auditory system. Scientists have received interesting results. They did not find any changes or abnormalities. However, Dr. Zhanneta Shapiro notes that due to the small sample (only 16 people), the importance of this study should not be noted and continued to be monitored for new and relevant information.
Hearing loss and the vaccines
As with any vaccination, people want to know any possible side effects. Let’s just look at the effect of vaccination on hearing. This is where Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine comes to our rescue. According to their research, vaccinations do not affect hearing. What’s more, the rate of sudden hearing loss is lower in vaccinated people. This is preliminary data as research and analysis are still ongoing.
What do we think about the Covid-19 and hearing problems?
Let’s combine all published research data on COVID-19 and hearing loss and analyze it. What do we see? Doctors from all regions of the world are reporting various hearing problems in COVID-19 patients.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
However, there is no direct evidence that SARS-CoV-2 causes such complications. Moreover, hearing problems can arise from something else. For example, due to the side effects of antiviral medications that cause hearing loss. Such agents contain quinine, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. In this regard, when conducting research, in each case it is necessary to determine what exactly caused the hearing impairment: antiviral medicines or SARS-CoV-2. In practice, this is quite difficult to do.
Unfortunately, today we do not have enough data on the impact of the virus on the auditory system. The only good decision is to conduct studies with a large sample. Only they will reveal the impact of COVID-19 on hearing and answer all our questions.
About Dr Zhanneta Shapiro
Dr Zhanneta Shapiro received her Masters of Science from Brooklyn College in 2005 and completed her Doctorate of Audiology from Florida University in May 2008. Her graduate training was in various hospitals in the tri-state area and a residency period completed at Ear Nose and Throat Associates of New York. [ Learn More ]