Can COVID-19 Damage Your Hearing?

A woman with hearing problems
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As COVID-19 has spread, we have regularly learned new things about the long-term damage it can inflict on those who are infected.

Now comes word that hearing loss and other auditory issues may be associated with the disease caused by the coronavirus also known as SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers at the University of Manchester and NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre analyzed data from 24 studies and estimated that the prevalence of auditory disorders associated with COVID-19 cases is:

  • Hearing loss: 7.6%
  • Tinnitus (a symptom often described as a ringing in the ears): 14.8%
  • Vertigo (a form of dizziness that makes it feel as if you or the room is spinning): 7.2%

Before you become too alarmed, know that the researchers judged the quality of these studies to be only “fair.” The data comes from self-reported questionnaires and medical records, which makes the information less reliable than what scientists could discover in actual hearing tests.

Still, it would be a mistake to simply brush off the findings. In a press release, Kevin Munro — professor of audiology at the University of Manchester and hearing health lead at the Manchester BRC — says:

“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. Though this review provides further evidence for an association, the studies we looked at were of varying quality so more work needs to be done.”

Munro and other researchers are in the midst of a year-long study in the United Kingdom to find out more about the potential link between COVID-19 and hearing disorders. Munro says he has received numerous emails from those who were infected with COVID-19 and later reported either tinnitus or changes in their hearing.

However, Munro notes that such issues could stem from other factors.

More recently, researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found evidence of the coronavirus in the middle ear during autopsies of some patients who had COVID-19.

The study did not seek to determine what effects, if any, resulted from the virus being present in the middle ear. But co-author Dr. Matthew Stewart, associate professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins, told AARP:

“If there is an active viral infection in that part of the body, you could get the whole host of symptoms associated with other types of viral infections in that area.”

Such symptoms include inflammation that could impair hearing or cause tinnitus, dizziness or imbalance.

Other research, however, supports Munro’s reluctance to jump to conclusions.

For example, a 2020 study out of Israel — which was published in a peer-reviewed American medical journal, Otology & Neurotology — found no evidence that COVID-19 damages the auditory system.

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