The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the lives of individuals and the medical community, impacting how we live, how we work, and how we address our health care needs. Since the earliest days of the pandemic, we have expanded our knowledge about the effects of the coronavirus. New research into the virus is beginning to provide insights not only into the immediate effect, but also on the long-term or post infection complications. One of the more recent findings relate to the onset of hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) following COVID-19.
A study by Kevin J. Munro and colleagues1 reported on 138 adults that had been admitted to the hospital with confirmed COVID symptoms. The standard 8-week follow-up questionnaire included a detailed clinical history and information on hearing loss and tinnitus for 121 patients. Sixteen (13.2%) patients reported a change in hearing and/or tinnitus since being diagnosed with COVID-19. The median age in these 16 cases was 64 years. Co-morbidities were common, e.g. diabetes in three adults. There was a self-reported deterioration in hearing in eight patients, with four reporting a pre-existing hearing loss. Eight patients self-reported tinnitus, with three reporting pre-existing tinnitus. One individual with hearing loss also reported vertigo (dizziness or room spinning). One patient reported unilateral tinnitus (left) that was associated with a sensation of pressure in the ears. In summary, 1 in 10 of the patients reported hearing loss or tinnitus. It is still unclear if these complications are due to the virus itself or to medications that were given during treatment.
As we continue to receive information and research on the effects of COVID-19, we need to be aware that all sensory systems may be affected. One of the early findings for coronavirus patients detailed the impact on the patients’ ability of taste and smell. It now appears that hearing may also be impacted, and this may not be noticed until sometime after the initial infection and/or after discharge from hospitalization. Due to the ongoing pandemic, many patients that have experienced hearing loss following a COVID-19 diagnosis may not be able to return to the audiology clinic for further evaluation. For many patients, pre-COVID hearing tests may not exist, and therefore it is difficult to determine if hearing loss existed prior to the infection or is just now being self-reported.
We need to continue to collect clinical data and evaluate further research into the impact of COVID-19 on hearing, tinnitus, and balance as we still do have the full picture how this virus impacts our sensory systems, especially haring and balance.