How COVID 19 could affect your hearing

Covid 19 Virus

The COVID 19 pandemic has affected almost every part of our lives, and now it seems it could even be causing hearing loss in some cases.

Since the latter months of 2019 the SARS-CoV-2 virus has plagued the world and affected us in ways that we could have never predicted, with nationwide lockdowns, wearing of masks and social distancing becoming the norm in 2020. As almost a year has gone by we are now also beginning to see the longer term effects that this coronavirus is having on the health of those who contract it.

Unsurprisingly there are many reports of the virus leaving its mark by way of respiratory conditions, but now it seems that it also can have an effect on your hearing. Today we’re going to take a look at what we know so far, and how you can keep the risk to your hearing as low as possible.

If you are already suffering from a loss of hearing then it is vitally important that you see an audiologist as soon as possible, as the earlier your hearing is treated, the better chances you have of a full recovery.

How does a respiratory infection affect your ears?

Xray of the lungs

While it might sound a bit strange to hear of hearing damage from a virus that targets your breathing, this isn’t actually new information. Influenza and other respiratory diseases are well-known to cause tinnitus and in some cases temporary or permanent hearing loss. 

The reason for this is believed to be related to the types of cells in the lungs that COVID 19 targets, although an exact cause hasn’t yet been officially accepted. This theory has come as these same cells found in the lungs have also been observed within the inner ear. There have been several cases where during an autopsy of someone who has had COVID 19, virus cells have been discovered within the ear.

SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) is also known to cause an inflammatory reaction and increase in chemicals within the host, both of which are believed to lead to hearing loss.

How common is it for COVID 19 to result in hearing loss?

A man looking thoughtful

This is arguably the most important question in this article, as we do not want to add any more unnecessary panic to what is already a daunting pandemic.

As of this article being written, the chances of COVID 19 causing permanent damage to your hearing are extremely slim. In the UK, with a total cases number of over 1.2 million, there has been 1 confirmed case of COVID 19 related permanent hearing loss. That’s not to say there is only a 1 in 1.2m chance of hearing loss however, as we’ll get to later on.

In this 1 unfortunate case, a 45 year old male who contracted COVID 19 and had to be put on a ventilator found that after being dismissed from the ICU he developed a ringing in one ear, which quickly developed into total one-sided hearing loss. Luckily he was treated very quickly and has recovered some hearing, but as he tested negative for all other causes, the only remaining reason for his condition has to be his recent battle with COVID 19.

If it is so uncommon for COVID 19 to cause hearing loss, why should I be wary of it?

Lots of pills

While hearing loss being directly caused by the virus itself is incredibly rare, there are several other ways that contracting COVID 19 can lead to hearing complications, the most prevalent of which being medication

Ototoxicity in layman’s terms means something that is toxic to the ear, which many of the anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat COVID 19 are. Quinine, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are 3 of the most commonly used medications and they all share the trait of causing hearing loss as a side effect.

Beyond medication, there are a host of other issues that can contribute to COVID 19 related hearing loss, so much so that almost 10% of coronavirus patients reported the effects of hearing loss up to 8 weeks after contracting the virus.

It is this long term uncertainty that begs caution from those who contract the virus, as you don’t want to find yourself with permanent damage to your hearing simply by assuming that it isn’t related to COVID 19 and not seeking help.

What to do if you notice your hearing getting worse after having COVID 19.

Ears being inspected by an audiologist

Should you notice your hearing deteriorating after contracting COVID 19, or at any other time, you should seek the help of a professional as soon as possible. Like most injuries, the sooner you start the healing process, the better your chances of your hearing making a full recovery.

One of the first ways to treat hearing loss caused either by COVID or its medications is to target the damaged ear with steroid tablets and injections. If administered quickly, this can prevent there being any real damage to the ear and allow for completely normal hearing.

In the case of our lone hearing loss sufferer, his COVID induced condition was partially cured via these very means, although unfortunately he was unable to fully recover his hearing. In this very example, had treatment been sought as soon as the ringing in his ears began, there might have been more hearing to rescue.

Should you find your hearing deteriorates while in hospital then rest assured you are in the best position to receive treatment, as in house staff will be able to diagnose and treat any conditions quickly alongside your regular COVID treatment.

But what about after recovering from the virus? With the NHS stretched thin, booking a hearing consultation could lead to you not being seen quickly enough to protect your hearing. Instead you might find going to an independent audiologist gets you the treatment, or at least the diagnosis you need to help protect your hearing.

What can I do if my hearing is already permanently damaged?

Should the worst come to worst and you are left with permanently damaged hearing, this still isn’t the end of the world.

In today’s world of rapidly improving technology it is refreshing to see that the audiology industry has kept pace, with newer hearing aids becoming more and more of an asset than a hindrance, all the while becoming smaller and even more discreet.

Should your hearing suffer permanent damage then it is highly advised that you visit a specialist audiologist who will be able to properly assess the level of your hearing, and help you to find the hearing aid solution that best suits your needs.

Who can I talk to?

While the NHS are true professionals, who work tirelessly for the good of those in their care, it is no secret that they are stretched to capacity. This means that independent specialists have become more and more popular for providing the tailored service that many people need.

There are many practices spread around the country, and it is important that you visit the one that is most ideally suited to you. 

meet the nathan gluck hearing care team

Nathan Gluck Hearing Care is an independent audiologist practicing in North London, offering the level of professionalism and service that can only be attained by a close knit family staff. We pride ourselves on putting the patient’s needs and experience above all else, and as such have adapted our practice to suit you. Our doors are open every day, and well into the evening, with an overwhelming majority of our appointments being booked and carried out on the same day.
If you need to talk to someone about your hearing health, and you need to do it now, then call us on 0800 781 0422, or book an appointment on our website by clicking here.