Could COVID Cause Tinnitus?
There are three, perhaps four phases of the COVID-19 disease. The first, elective phase, is having the vaccine (if we decide to) while the second, involuntary one, is possibly contracting an infection.
The third phase of falling ill follows after infection, although the severity of symptoms varies. The fourth one is the post-infection ‘Long COVID’ phase, when we may feel fatigued, and perhaps hear our ears ringing although nobody else notices.
Unpacking the Origins of Long COVID Tinnitus
Melissa Heightman runs a post-COVID clinic at University College London Hospitals in England. She finds one-third of her patients have lingering symptoms that can last a year, or even longer. She describes those symptoms as a strange constellation of ailments hospitals did not have resources to treat in the early pandemic.
She finds numbing fatigue occurs most often. However, other signs of Long COVID include brain fog, muscle and joint pain, sleep disturbances, migraines, chest pains, skin rashes, new sensitivities to smells and tastes, rapid increases in heartbeat while exercising, and yes Long COVID hearing loss too.
More about Tinnitus and the Subjective Experience of It
Doctors have known for a while emotional shock and / or disease can trigger tinnitus. They also discovered recently that some people sense their ears ringing after COVID vaccine shots, although this is due to anxiety not the vaccine itself.
Tinnitus involves a person sensing, rather than hearing sounds in their ears. The condition can also be the result of damage to their inner ears causing progressive hearing loss. COVID ear ringing is similar from a subjective viewpoint, although true COVID tinnitus may have a different origin.
Tinnitus presents an endlessly repeated series of sounds in the affected person’s mind. These could be ringing, rustling, or hammering noises (to mention just a few) that invade their consciousness as a persistent itch does below the skin. However, not having experienced tinnitus ourselves we can only imagine the experience.
Tinnitus Ears Ringing During Active COVID Infection
COVID-19 symptoms during the third, active phase of the disease may include aggravated tinnitus. However, as WebMD explains this may be complicated by increased anxiety, and feelings of loneliness. They cite a UK study paper authored by Eldre Beukes, research fellow at Anglia Ruskin and Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
Eldre says the study found 40% of those who had COVID-19 symptoms experienced a worsening of their existing tinnitus too. While others reported their tinnitus was something other coronavirus symptoms triggered.
The study report cites the following non-medical factors to complete the picture:
- Many respondents believed social distancing was worsening their COVID tinnitus.
- They also thought video calls, noisier homes and drinking more coffee and alcohol during shelter made their condition worse.
- One third of them believed fear of getting COVID, losing jobs and financial worries were also having an effect.
The journal Frontiers in Public Health has this to say concerning the COVID ear ringing syndrome during the pandemic:
Poor treatment of tinnitus in the early stages often leads to much worse cases, and severe tinnitus can have a huge impact on mental health. With this in mind, as the COVID-19 second wave takes hold, the health care system needs to ensure that anyone who develops tinnitus, or experiences a worsening of their condition, can access the professional health care support they need as quickly as possible.
Ongoing Tinnitus During the Long Covid Phase
Doctors thought that we would mostly recover from the disease during the early COVID-19 pandemic phase, shrug our symptoms off, and be able to get on with life. However, we now know this is not always the case. Symptoms linger in as many as 30% of infections, and this affects non-hospitalized patients even more if anything.
And so, instead, we have to face up to a Long COVID reality that renders some of us mere shadows of our enthusiastic selves, for at least several months. A report in International Journal of Audiology that says nearly 15 percent of those infected experience post-COVID-19 tinnitus.
We close this article by exploring current thinking around the origins of this condition, and what you could do soften the impact. We wish we could tell you we have a magic cure for your ears ringing after you thought COVID was cured. But unfortunately that is not the case.
Melissa Heightman of the post-COVID clinic at University College London Hospitals tells us virus fragments can access our brains along the sensory nerve in our upper nasal tract. These can interfere with our subconscious autonomous body systems, including hearing.
And therefore COVID tinnitus can be with us for a long time, just like the original version we wrote about recently. You may be able to obtain some relief with hearing aids whose volume could help suppress those sounds. However mind you we are not making promises, because that would be unprofessional of us.