Photo: Lena Clara / Getty Images / fStop
After a year of pandemic life, we know for sure a few things about the coronavirus. We know that, in general, it is characterized by fever, cough and shortness of breath, but do not rule out the possibility of: chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell, gastrointestinal problems, nausea, vomiting, runny nose, congestion, painful toe lesions, or, frustratingly, no symptoms. That’s a lot to pay attention to, and based on an analysis from the UK, we may eventually be able to add another brand of COVID-19 to the list: hearing loss. It never ends!
Specifically, the data, from 56 studies mentioning hearing problems in people with confirmed coronavirus infections, point to side effects including tinnitus, vertigo and hearing difficulties. Putting together figures from 24 of those studies, the scientists found a prevalence of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) of nearly 15 percent and an incidence of about 7 percent of hearing loss and vertigo, respectively. The review relied primarily on the medical records of COVID patients and their responses to questionnaires, and its authors requested clinical and diagnostic studies to investigate the apparent link.
“Although the evidence is of variable quality, more and more studies are being carried out, so the evidence base is growing,” Ibrahim Almufarrij, Ph.D. University of Manchester researcher said in a statement. “What we really need are studies that compare COVID-19 cases to controls, such as patients admitted to hospital with other conditions.”
Still, Kevin Munro, a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester who is leading a year-long study looking at the possible long-term effects of coronavirus on hearing, noted that hearing loss can occur during other viral infections, such as measles. and mumps and meningitis. “In the past few months, I have received numerous emails from people who reported a change in their hearing, or tinnitus, after having COVID-19,” he said. But “while this is alarming,” he added, “caution is required as it is unclear whether the changes in hearing are directly attributed to COVID-19 or to other factors, such as treatments to provide urgent care.” That is, as often seems to be the case when it comes to the coronavirus, there is still a lot we don’t know.