Hearing impairments are more common than you might think — with over 12 million people living with hearing loss in the UK, and 1 in 8 adults experiencing tinnitus (ringing in the ears).1, 5
Recent reports have suggested a potential link between hearing loss, tinnitus, and coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2) — although much of the information is unclear. So, to help you understand the latest research around COVID-19 and hearing conditions, we’ve put together this guide.
Can COVID-19 cause hearing loss?
Current research shows that most people who contract COVID-19 do not experience hearing loss as a symptom. However, in a limited number of cases, a few people have experienced sudden onset hearing loss (SSNHL), although this is extremely rare.2 It is important to know that hearing loss related to COVID-19 is not typically the first or only sign of the virus, and it usually occurs alongside more common symptoms such as a dry, persistent cough and high temperature.
As the weather gets colder, it’s also worth remembering that our ears can be affected by a number of seasonal illnesses, such as the common cold or flu. So, if you’re not experiencing other symptoms associated with coronavirus, it’s more likely that you’re just feeling a little under the weather.
Is tinnitus a sign of coronavirus?
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears that can begin suddenly or develop gradually over time. While this can occur for a number of reasons, from earwax build-up to loud noise, there is some evidence that links tinnitus to coronavirus. For example, a survey by the Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust found that 13.2% of patients reported a change of hearing and/or tinnitus after being diagnosed with COVID-19, and just over 5% reported developing tinnitus.3 Again, this is quite rare (usually occurring alongside more common coronavirus symptoms), so experiencing tinnitus alone is not likely to be linked to COVID-19. Instead, further research is needed to fully understand this potential link.
Can COVID-19 worsen a pre-existing hearing condition?
Recent research has also looked into whether having coronavirus can worsen pre-existing conditions, including hearing loss. A new Anglia Ruskin University study of 3,103 people with tinnitus found that 40% of those displaying symptoms of COVID-19 simultaneously experienced a worsening of their tinnitus.4 While this is rare, and further research is needed to fully explore this potential link, its important to consider if you have a pre-existing hearing condition.
Beyond COVID-19, it’s possible that some people with pre-existing hearing conditions may experience worsening symptoms due to missed appointments over lockdown. If your scheduled appointments with your audiologist or GP have been cancelled for any reason, it’s important to rebook them as soon as possible.
Does a pre-existing hearing condition increase the risk of developing COVID-19?
There is no research evidence to suggest that having a pre-existing hearing condition, such as tinnitus or hearing loss, increases a person’s risk of developing COVID-19.
I have a hearing condition and I suspect I have COVID-19 — what should I do?
If you’re experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, suspect you might have COVID-19, or have recently received a positive COVID test result, it’s important that you don’t visit your GP or audiologist. Instead, you’ll need to follow the official government self-isolation guidance and contact the NHS 111 helpline for further information.
I’m experiencing sudden hearing loss — can I still visit my GP or audiologist?
If you notice any sudden changes to your hearing, such as a ringing sensation or reduced hearing, it’s important to have your symptoms checked by your GP or audiologist soon as possible.
Again, it’s important to not visit your GP or audiologist if you suspect you might have coronavirus or have recently received a positive test result. Instead, you should follow the official government self-isolation guidance and contact the NHS 111 helpline for further information.
For more information about keeping your ears healthy at this time, visit our COVID-19 care hub.
1. Action on Hearing Loss, Coronavirus Policy (2020). Available at: https://actiononhearingloss.org.uk/about-us/research-and-policy/coronavirus-policy-statement/ [accessed 21/10/20]
2. Foteini Stefania Koumpa, Cillian T Forde, and Joseph G Manjaly (2020), Sudden irreversible hearing loss post COVID-19 [online]. Available at: https://casereports.bmj.com/content/13/11/e238419 [accessed 21/10/2020]
3. Kevin J. Munro, Kai Uus, Ibrahim Almufarrij, Nazia Chaudhuri and Veronica Yioe (July 2020), Persistent self-reported changes in hearing and tinnitus in post-hospitalisation COVID-19 cases [online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14992027.2020.1798519 [accessed 21/10/2020]
4. Anglia Ruskin University (2020), COVID-19 is making tinnitus worse - new study [online]. Available at: https://aru.ac.uk/news/covid-19-is-making-tinnitus-worse-new-study [accessed 21/10/20]
5. Action on Hearing Loss, Tinnitus (no date). Available at: https://actiononhearingloss.org.uk/information-and-support/tinnitus/ accessed 21/10/20]
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