Tinnitus is that ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, whooshing or rustling sound with no external sound source experienced by roughly 32% of the population, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Tinnitus has many potential triggers, including exposure to loud noise, inner ear damage and stress.
Many have reported increased severity of tinnitus since the start of the pandemic, and experts are theorizing it may not be due to stress alone. In fact, many researchers believe the virus itself is playing a role.
What the Studies Show
There are a number of studies looking at the relationship between COVID-19 and tinnitus.
Frontiers in Public Health
A study published this November in the journal Frontiers in Public Health found that 40% of people who had symptoms of COVID-19 also experienced a worsening of tinnitus symptoms. This data comes from more than 3,000 patients who self-reported changes to their hearing since the start of the pandemic. Around 250 reported COVID-19 symptoms, though only 26 tested positive for the virus.
According to senior study author Eldre Beukes, fellow at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, “a combination of lifestyle, social and emotional factors during the pandemic” worsened tinnitus for a third of the study participants.
The study also identified seven patients who first noticed changes in their hearing when they developed symptoms of COVID-19, suggesting hearing damage may be a symptom of the virus for some.
International Journal of Audiology
Another study, published in July in the International Journal of Audiology found that 15% of 138 hospitalized COVID-19 patients reported hearing impairment eight weeks after being discharged. Most of these patients did not have hearing problems before their COVID diagnosis.
This finding aligns with a case report published in The BMJ about a British man who lost his hearing when he was hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19.
The Link Between COVID-19 and Tinnitus
A fairly well-known symptom of COVID-19 is loss of smell, which has the same mechanisms that contribute to hearing loss and tinnitus, according to Dr. Matthew Steward, associate professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
When a person is infected with COVID, the body floods the bloodstream with platelet-making cells that reside in bone marrow. The cells can get stuck in the tiny blood vessels of the nose, leading to loss of nerve function.
“The same thing can happen in the tiny blood vessels in the ears,” said Stewart. “Just as the tissues that enable smell are damaged by Covid-19, we worry that tissues in the ear are affected, as well, and that this damage could last after the virus is gone.” For more information or to schedule an appointment, call ENT of Georgia today.