COVID-19 is known to produce a variety of health issues. But new research has revealed that it may also damage our hearing.

Experts from the University College London (UK) have linked the virus to sudden sensorineural hearing loss – where a person rapidly loses their hearing, often in just one ear.

Their report, published in the British Medical Journal, illustrates the case of a 45-year-old man who had COVID-19 and was admitted to an intensive care unit for treatment.

He left the hospital after thirty days. But a week later, he noticed tinnitus (a ringing sound) in his left ear, followed by a sudden loss in his hearing, reports the Guardian.

The man didn’t have a history of hearing loss prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis, leading researchers to conclude that his rapid deterioration resulted from the virus.

While the research is still not fully conclusive, similar examples have been found in the US, with CNN reporting the case of a woman who shared a comparable experience.

So what is sudden sensorineural hearing loss?

Often a hearing loss takes place gradually over several years or decades. But sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or SSHL for short, either takes place instantly or over a few days.

People usually witness this as soon as they wake up from a night’s sleep. You can also recognize the issue when you go to use the ear that’s affected for a purpose (e.g. listening to music).

In the period leading up to the sudden hearing loss, you might witness the swift onset of certain symptoms, such as a ringing in your ear or a lack of clarity when witnessing certain frequencies.

Importantly, as soon as you recognize this issue, you should seek medical assistance.

Roughly half of those that get SSHL will recover a partial amount or all of their hearing. But often, this is determined by how fast they have received expert assistance.

More evidence of COVID-19’s links to hearing loss

Alongside SSHL, there have been extensive reports of people getting other types of hearing loss after contracting the virus. I recently treated a patient whose experience serves as an informative anecdote.

I tested his hearing in June, only a couple of weeks before he was hospitalized for COVID-19. He already suffered from severe hearing loss, along with poor speech understanding (we call the latter “Word Recognition Scores”).

He contacted me after his release from the hospital and requested to be tested again because his hearing seemed significantly worse.

We retested his hearing in September and found that his ability to detect sounds had not changed, but his Word Recognition Scores were dramatically worse. In fact, they were almost non-existent!

My patient reported that during his hospitalization, he had asked doctors and medical staff to communicate with him using a dry-erase board, as he couldn’t understand what they were saying.

Further research needed

What caused this sharp decline in his speech understanding is unclear. But what we do know is that since his original test, the only major medical change has been his COVID-19 diagnosis.

It is evident from reports in the news that my patient is not alone. Other individuals around the world with COVID-19 are demonstrating various auditory changes.

Experts don’t know the root cause yet. But based on our knowledge of hearing mechanics, we believe these auditory symptoms are likely related to one or more of the following: a viral attack on the inner ear, lack of oxygen to the ear, or medications.

Only time will tell as more information is gained. Until then, remain safe and stay tuned for more!

If you’re concerned about hearing loss, either following a COVID-19 diagnosis or not, please don’t hesitate to call our team at (256) 319-4327. We’re ready to help you now!

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Dr. Susan Sheehy

Dr. Sheehy earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in audiology at the University of Alabama before beginning her career as a clinical audiologist in Huntsville. In 2005, she received her doctorate in audiology from Salus University. Dr. Sheehy is one of a specialized subset of audiologists certified in tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). By appointment from the governor, she has served as a member and chairperson of the Alabama Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.
    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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    If you want premium “out of this world” technology and the highest level of service and expert support, our All-Inclusive treatment plan is the right investment for you.

    The All-Inclusive treatment plan offers long-term value for your on-the-go lifestyle, providing everything you need to connect with family and friends for years to come.

    Includes:

    • Stellar hearing devices from top manufacturer (rechargeable option available)

    • Wireless accessory included at no charge

    • Comprehensive Annual Visit including hearing assessment, hearing device adjustment, and 19-Point preventative maintenance valutaion

    • Bi-annual hearing aid software update and reprogramming

    • Same day diagnosis and in-office repair during weekdays for devices dropped off before 3:00 p.m.

    • 5-Year full-service repair warranty

    • Unlimited remote hearing aid adjustments

    • 100% moisture removal by Redux and cleaning

    • Hearing aid supplies (stock receivers, batteries, domes and filters)

    • $1000 contribution towards purchase of upgraded technology within 48 months

    • 3-Year replacement warranty for loss or damage (no deductible)

    • Dedicated team of hearing care experts at your service

    • Unlimited teleaudiology appointments

    • Access to our “speed of light” repair specialists

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    A Comprehensive12-Step Functional Hearing Assessment

    If you struggle to understand conversations in social situations, restaurants, or other noisy environments, you do not need to schedule a basic hearing test. You certainly don’t need to schedule a “free” hearing screening or online hearing test.

    You need to schedule a “Connect 365” Functional Hearing Assessment at Alabama Hearing Associates!

    Hearing Technology with a Methodical Plan

    Our community understands better than most what can be achieved when you combine technology with human intelligence and persistence. It is much the same with hearing technology.

    The latest hearing aid technology is incredibly powerful, offering stellar sound quality and performance. Wireless connections allow phone calls, music and television to stream directly to your hearing aids for exceptional clarity.

    But hearing aids do not fit and program themselves! For best outcomes, you also need the human touch and expertise provided by our Doctors of Audiology.

    How do I know my new hearing aids are working properly?

    Without verifying that the hearing aid is working correctly from the start, all of the other steps in the hearing aid fitting process are useless. The most sensitive quality control measure is something called Electroacoustic Analysis. We complete EAA on every new set of hearing aids, before delivery of repaired devices, and on an annual basis.

    What Is Real-Ear Measurement?

    Real-ear measurement (REM) is how an audiologist knows that hearing aids are working the way they should in each patient’s ears.

    Ears are as unique as a fingerprint. Because of this, every ear will collect sounds differently.

    Even if I had two patients with the exact same hearing loss and hearing aids, there’s almost no chance the hearing aids would be programmed the same way.

    Orientation, Counseling, and Follow-up

    Dr. Cliff (the creator of the Best Practice Pro Network) said it best:

    “Having a detailed orientation can dramatically improve how much success you have with hearing treatment.  Counseling & Follow-up care can also ensure that you have success for years to come.  Regular visits to a hearing care provider who spends the time to discuss treatment related information and who will maintain your devices is extremely important.”

    During the orientation, your provider will give you the tools you need to be a successful hearing aid user. Everyone has different learning styles and we want to make sure whatever works best for you is what’s used. After the 75 day adjustment period, routine checkups are necessary to maintain the hearing aids and to ensure optimal hearing healthcare. 

    Real World Adjustments

    Your hearing loss didn't occur overnight, so it will take some time to adjust to the hearing aids. Your patience and persistence will be well worth it.

    Wireless Connections

    Most hearing aids automatically come with wireless streaming from smartphones and it has been a lifesaver for those that are working remotely and spending hours on teleconferences. As for other wireless accessories, the two most popular solutions are a small microphone used in less-than-ideal listening environments and a TV streamer that streams the TV’s sound directly into your ears—which can be a lifesaver when watching British TV shows or during football season. If your audiologist believes they would be beneficial for you, they will discuss your options and demonstrate the device in the office.

    Assessing Outcomes

    To ensure the most success with your hearing devices, we measure the benefits of amplification at the end of your adjustment period—some of the surveys and tests included in the “Connect 365” Functional Hearing Assessment will be repeated to evaluate progress, quality of life, and patient satisfaction with the hearing aids.