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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