COVID-19 could lead to tinnitus and other hearing issues, researchers find

COVID-19 is a virus. Viruses can have long term effects. So, what are the effects of COVID-19 after you’ve had the disease?

One year into the pandemic, researchers have revisited a potential link between the COVID-19 virus and various hearing issues. The pool of data is much bigger than those of the initial reviews conducted in early 2020 and researchers are finally able to make estimates on how common certain symptoms/disorders can be.

Kevin Munro, Professor of Audiology at the University of Manchester, wrote an analytical piece for The Conversation that identifies approximately 60 studies that report audio-vestibular problems in people with confirmed COVID-19.

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Around 7%-15% of adults diagnosed with COVID-19 report audio-vestibular symptoms, according to Munro. The most common symptom is tinnitus, followed by hearing difficulties and vertigo.

“Interestingly, there are reports that tinnitus is a common symptom of long COVID, which is where symptoms last weeks or months after the infection has gone,” Munro writes. “Why tinnitus is being reported in people with confirmed COVID-19 is unclear,” he says, admitting that it’s possible for the virus to attack and damage the auditory system. Munro also notes that hearing loss could be attributed to a number of other factors; including stress or a pre-existing condition.

Sudden hearing loss can occur because of regular viruses, so it’s also possible that SARS-CoV-2 – a strain of the coronavirus – is potentially responsible for hearing loss in COVID-19 patients. However, “the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide is so high that it is difficult to say with any great certainty if the cases of sudden hearing loss are higher than what we would generally expect to see each year,” Munro writes.

Munro also warns to be wary of coincidence and the lack of sufficient control measurements to compare with the data of the confirmed COVID-19 patients. As a result, he and his colleagues are spearheading a year-long study to investigate the long term effects of COVID-19 on previously hospitalised patients, to try further understand the emerging consequences of this virus.