Coronavirus

COVID-19 Could Make Your Ears Ring or Buzz, a New Study Finds

The pandemic has triggered or worsened tinnitus in many.
November 10, 2020, 9:02am
covid symptoms tinnitu
Photo courtesy of Kimia Zarifi via Unsplash

A new research has revealed that tinnitus, a common condition that causes the perception of noise in the ear and head, is becoming worse due to COVID-19. 

Tinnitus is a condition in which a person hears unwanted sounds, such a ringing, whooshing, hissing or buzzing in their ears, without a corresponding external sound. It’s one of the most frequently occurring chronic conditions, affecting 12 to 30 percent of the adult population worldwide. These phantom sounds are a symptom of an underlying cause that often remains undiscovered. Though there have been some scientific developments that fill patients with hope, a real cure hasn’t been found. For now, the only thing people with tinnitus can do is learn to live with it.

On November 5, 2020 a study was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health that was led by Anglia Ruskin University with support from the British Tinnitus Association and the American Tinnitus Association. It Includes the study of 3,103 people with tinnitus. The participants were from 48 countries but 97 percent of the representation was from America and Europe.

The study revealed that 40 percent of the people who were displaying symptoms of COVID-19 experienced a worsening of their tinnitus. The main focus of the study was on people with pre-existing tinnitus but a small number of participants reported that their condition was triggered when they developed COVID-19 symptoms. Around 250 participants reported coronavirus symptoms, although only 26 had tested positive for the virus.

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It was also revealed that a large proportion of the people believed that their tinnitus had got worse by social distancing measures which were introduced to control the spread of the virus. These measures have led to various significant changes in people’s lifestyle.

According to University of Manchester audiologists, in a study supported by the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), a deterioration in hearing was reported by a significant number of COVID-19 patients even after eight weeks of their discharge from the hospital.

As for the Anglia Ruskin University study, the respondents in the U.K. tinnitus this to be a greater issue as compared to people from the other countries. Around 46 percent of U.K. respondents said that their tinnitus was negatively impacted due to lifestyle changes, whereas only 29 percent in North America complained for the same. 

“A lot of viruses do affect the ear, so it is possible that being infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus did cause tinnitus in some people,” said Eldre Beukes, a research fellow at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. “However, people who go through really stressful periods can also develop tinnitus as a result of that stress.”

It was also found that women and people who were under 50 found tinnitus significantly more bothersome in the pandemic. It was noted that these complexities that were associated with experiencing tinnitus could be due to internal as well as external factors such as anxiety, feelings of loneliness,  trouble sleeping and changes in daily lives. External factors such as more video calls, noisier home environments, home schooling and increased coffee and alcohol consumption, were also cited by respondents.

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It was also noted that apart from increasing the severity of tinnitus symptoms, the pandemic has also made it more difficult for people to access healthcare support for the condition.

Last month, a study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports said that COVID-19 may cause sudden and permanent hearing loss and it requires an urgent detection and treatment. In October, a British man who had asthma was left with permanent hearing loss after developing COVID-19. The patient was treated with steroids for his hearing loss, which resulted in just partial improvement in his hearing, according to the journal.

Though more research is needed to find a direct link and treat hearing issues as a symptom (quite like the loss of smell and taste), it’s worth noting that viral infections, including the Herpes viruses, rubella, measles and mumps are known to affect balance and/or hearing, and that this could be the same with COVID-19.

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