Initially, COVID-19 was considered an illness that primarily affected the respiratory system.
The Centers for Disease Control eventually concluded COVID-19 might have non-respiratory symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.
At Holland Hearing Center, our patients are asking if hearing loss is a symptom of COVID-19.
Since my colleagues and I always make it a priority to stay current with the latest science, we were ready to explain the strong link between COVID-19 and hearing loss.
However, there’s not enough scientific evidence (yet) to proclaim hearing loss is a symptom of COVID-19. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.
Researchers Have Found SARS-CoV-2 in the Middle Ear
Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine discovered the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the middle ear of COVID-19 patients.
That finding supports the possibility that COVID-19 could cause viral symptoms like inflammation within the ear.
Hearing Loss Can Coincide with COVID-19
There are many reports of COVID-19 patients whose hearing loss started around the same time as their other COVID-19 symptoms.
In the healthcare community, we’re intrigued when two or more health events happen at about the same time because the events are often related. Yet, happening at the same time isn’t sufficient evidence to prove one event (a COVID-19 infection) caused the other event (hearing loss).
We’re starting to see studies that look at the prevalence of hearing loss among COVID-19 patients.
For instance, one study revealed 13.2 percent of COVID-19 patients reported hearing problems eight weeks after being discharged from the hospital.
Another study performed hearing tests on a control group and asymptomatic individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The study subjects were aged 20 to 50 and did not have a prior history of hearing loss. The hearing evaluations uncovered hearing loss in everyone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
COVID-19 Treatments Complicate the Picture
Frequently, physicians treat COVID-19 patients with medications that are known to have side effects like hearing loss, imbalance, or tinnitus.
In the healthcare community, we use the term ‘ototoxic’ to describe medications that can harm the ear. Ototoxic treatments for COVID-19 include azithromycin, remdesivir, and lopinavir.
When someone who is being treated for COVID-19 experiences new hearing loss, it’s difficult to determine whether the virus or an ototoxic drug is responsible, or if it is a hearing loss that has been amplified by the increased wearing of face masks.
A Final Note About the Pandemic and Hearing Loss
In our clinic, new patients have turned to us for help because the pandemic has made their pre-existing yet untreated hearing loss intolerable.
Before the pandemic, these patients had relied on cues like facial expressions and lip-reading to compensate for what they couldn’t hear.
Masks and social distancing took away those visual aids.
Are you struggling with your hearing in these unusual times?
At Holland Hearing Center, we’re available to help. Contact us to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment.
For a reminder of how we are keeping you safe, follow this link.