At Alabama Hearing Associates, our commitment to providing the highest quality of care includes maintaining our focus on the latest research related to hearing loss. In these unusual times, my colleague, Dr. Susan Sheehy, and I realize the importance of keeping up with research covering the impact of COVID-19 on hearing.

When patients ask us if hearing loss is a COVID-19 symptom, we tell them the scientific evidence suggests the answer is yes. However, we won’t be able to give a definitive answer until more studies are completed. In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of what’s known about the strong connection between hearing loss and COVID-19.

Why Hearing Loss Could Be a Symptom

COVID-19 is a viral infection that is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Other viruses such as HIV and measles are known to cause hearing loss. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume COVID-19 has the potential to damage hearing.

Also, viruses can produce inflammation in the body parts they invade. Researchers have found SARS-CoV-2 in the middle ear of COVID-19 patients. That raises the possibility that COVID-19 could generate inflammation in the middle ear, which in turn could bring about hearing loss, according to the study’s author C. Matthew Stewart.

COVID-19 Patients Report Hearing Loss

There have been COVID-19 patients who have said their hearing problems started along with their other COVID-19 symptoms. However, I want to emphasize when two things happen at the same time, that doesn’t always mean one of those things caused the other. That being said, there are enough cases in the medical literature to conclude COVID-19 and hearing loss are linked in some way.

Although I can’t list every report here, I wanted to go over a couple of notable ones. One study asked COVID-19 patients about changes in their hearing at eight weeks after hospital discharge.

Sixteen participants (13.2 percent of surveyed patients) said their hearing was worse. Half of the group with hearing problems also reported ringing in their ears.

In another study, researchers performed hearing evaluations on a control group and asymptomatic participants who had tested positive for COVID-19.

The hearing evaluations uncovered every COVID-19 patient had experienced hearing loss. All participants were age 20 to 50 to prevent age-related hearing loss from skewing the data.

Are Ototoxic Medications to Blame?

An ototoxic medication can harm the ears and lead to hearing loss. Several ototoxic medications, such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, have been used to treat COVID-19.

Ototoxic medications may explain the hearing loss in a certain fraction of COVID-19 patients. Yet, these medications can’t be the culprit in every case of COVID-19 related hearing loss.

For instance, medication cannot be the reason the asymptomatic study participants experienced hearing loss as they had no symptoms to treat.

Dr. Sheehy and I will continue to monitor the research on COVID-19 and hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can have serious consequences for your mental and physical health. If you have concerns about your hearing, contact us to schedule a hearing assessment.

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Dr. Jan Liles

Dr. Liles earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Montevallo and her master’s degree from the University of Alabama. From 1991 to 2001, she worked with two ENT medical practices and initiated one of the first newborn hearing screening programs in the state. In 2002, she was awarded a doctorate in audiology from the University of Florida. Dr. Liles and her longtime best friend, Dr. Sheehy, founded Alabama Hearing Associates in January 2002.
    Basic Hearing Test

    A basic hearing test begins with an air conduction test. You will be seated in a soundproof booth and single-use, foam earphones will be inserted into your ear canals. The Audiologist will ask you to push a button or raise your hand when you barely hear a series of beeps (tones) presented at various frequencies (pitches) to obtain your air conduction thresholds.

    To determine whether your hearing loss is a conductive (mechanical) loss, sensorineural (permanent) loss or combination of the two, we perform a bone conduction test.  

    For this test, a head band is place on the bone behind one of the ears to obtain your bone conduction thresholds. This process provides a different form of sound transmission using vibration, which bypasses the eardrum and the middle ear bones and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. When you hear the beeps/tones, you will push a button or raise your hand.

    If bone conduction thresholds are better than air conduction thresholds (through the foam inserts), you have a conductive hearing loss. This suggests a problem with the mechanical structures (moving parts) of the ears.

    Conductive hearing loss is often a medically treatable condition for which we will provide you with a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. However, if bone and air conduction thresholds match, it indicates a sensorineural hearing loss (permanent), and the treatment will likely involve hearing aids.



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