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, there is some evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can cause hearing loss, and related symptoms such as tinnitus and vertigo, although this is rare.2, 6 Recent research looked into the link between COVID-19 and audio-vestibular symptoms across 24 studies.6 Scientists found that, in people who were infected by COVID-19, 7.6% experienced hearing loss, 14.8% experienced tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and 7.2% experienced rotatory vertigo (feelings of spinning and dizziness).6 In some rare cases then, coronavirus can be known to impact your hearing, as well as your balance.
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, or allergy season sets in, 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 COVID-19?
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 A more recent analysis of 24 coronavirus studies found that 14.8% experienced tinnitus as a symptom. 6
Again, this is still quite rare (usually occurring alongside more common coronavirus symptoms), so experiencing tinnitus alone is not likely to be linked to COVID-19.
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, it’s 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.
How does COVID-19 and hearing loss impact mental health?
COVID-19 has been a difficult time for us all, including those who experience hearing loss. Research funded by The Deafness Support Network has shown that the pandemic is having a significant impact on the mental health of over 70s with hearing difficulties. Most of this vulnerable group have been advised to ‘shield’, which can worsen experiences of depression, loneliness and cognitive issues ranging from function to memory difficulty.7
If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, you can find out more information on how hearing loss impacts mental health here. Alternatively, read our article for more information on how face masks can impact people with hearing loss.
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 as soon as possible.
Again, it’s important to not visit if you suspect you might have coronavirus or have recently received a positive COVID test result. Instead, you should follow the official government self-isolation guidance and contact the NHS 111 helpline for further information.
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.
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.
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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]
6. Ibrahim Almufarrij and Kevin J. Munro (2021), One year on: an updated systematic review of SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and audio-vestibular symptoms [online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14992027.2021.1896793 [accessed 23/03/2021]
7. Jenna Littlejohn, Annalena Venneri, Antonia Marsden and Christopher J. Plack (2021), Self-reported hearing difficulties are associated with loneliness, depression and cognitive dysfunction during the COVID-19 pandemic [online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14992027.2021.1894492 [accessed 23/03/2021]