The University of Manchester found that tinnitus could be a COVID-19 symptom – some patients of the virus are reporting a loss in hearing and ringing of the ears
Recently, individuals have been raising concerns about hearing loss as a side effect of the COVID vaccine. There is no evidence in clinical trials or real-world data that this is a problem caused by taking the vaccine – but when it comes to COVID itself, a new story is emerging.
Professor Bin Cao, National Center for Respiratory Medicine and researcher on long COVID, explained: “Because COVID-19 is such a new disease, we are only beginning to understand some of its long-term effects on patients’ health.”
Now, scientists in Manchester are unearthing connections between patients of COVID and tinnitus.
A long-time tinnitus sufferer explained their experience as generally painless, but said that it “impairs your hearing” and can be “irritating when it happens”.
Tinnitus is medically described as a ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. This can be loud or soft, high or low pitched and could impact both ears.
Viruses ‘can cause hearing loss’, says researcher
Kevin Munro, Professor of Audiology at The University of Manchester and Manchester BRC Hearing Health Lead, commented: “There is an urgent need for a carefully conducted clinical and diagnostic study to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the auditory system.
“It is also well-known that viruses such as measles, mumps and meningitis can cause hearing loss; little is understood about the auditory effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
The NHS has included tinnitus in a list of long COVID symptoms, alongside problems with memory and depression.
‘The evidence base is growing’
Professor Kevin Munro and PhD researcher Ibrahim Almufarrij looked at 56 studies that linked COVID-19 to auditory problems, like loss of hearing and ringing in the ears.
They found that 7.6% of COVID patients experienced hearing loss, while 14.8% of them experienced tinnitus. A further 7.2% experienced vertigo, a loss of balance which occurs in people with ear damage.
In a separate study, Professor Munro found that over 13% of patients who were discharged from a hospital reported a change in their hearing. The team are conducting a long one-year study to further explore the link between COVID and ear damage.
Researcher Ibrahim Almufarrij explained: “Though the evidence is of varying quality, more and more studies are being carried out so the evidence base is growing. What we really need are studies that compare COVID-19 cases with controls, such as patients admitted to hospital with other health conditions.
“Though caution needs to be taken, we hope this study will add to the weight of scientific evidence that there is a strong association between Covid-19 and hearing problems.”