By Barry Keate
Current medical science indicates that people who recover from the COVID-19 virus tend to enjoy a complete recovery. However, some of those recovered patients suffer complications that can include damage to the heart, lungs and brain and which can lead to long-term health problems. Now scientists are discovering that hearing loss and tinnitus are among the complications that occur in some survivors.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a new and novel virus. While it is similar to other coronaviruses, such as those the cause the flu or common cold, it is unique and has many effects on the body that we are just learning about. Many millions of research dollars are invested in finding a vaccine for the virus, but there have not been many clinical trials conducted on other aspects of the disease, such as long-term effects of the virus.
COVID-19 and Hearing Loss with Tinnitus
A recent Research Letter to the Editor of the International Journal of Audiology referred to a systematic review of adults who had been admitted to Manchester University Hospital in the UK for COVID-19. (1)
When consulted 8 weeks after discharge from the hospital, 121 patients were questioned about hearing and/or tinnitus. Sixteen (13.2%) of patients reported a change in hearing and/or tinnitus since being diagnosed.
In eight cases there was self-reported deterioration in hearing after discharge. Eight patients also self-reported new or worsened tinnitus.
While the researchers are confident in the difference of pre-existing and recent changes in hearing and tinnitus, caution is required when interpreting the recent changes. It is possible that the change in environmental surroundings associated with admission to a hospital may have increased anxiety and amplified pre-existing hearing loss and tinnitus.
Another possibility is that the administration of drugs which are ototoxic has created the negative changes. Medications prescribed for COVID-19 are all ototoxic. These include remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and ritonavir.
“It is possible that some of these patients were given high doses of drugs to help with a life-threatening condition, and that it’s the drugs themselves that directly caused a hearing problem or tinnitus,” said the lead researcher of the study, Kevin Munro, PhD.
Dr. Munro is currently raising funds for a research study that looks at the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on adult hearing.
Living with COVID-Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Caitlin Barr, PhD, an audiologist in Australia, advises patients with any form of hearing loss or tinnitus to initially consult with an audiologist for an evaluation. The audiologist can provide a hearing test that can identify the cause, whether it is external to the ear or if it is a problem within the cochlea or the auditory nerve complex.
If the problem is hearing loss, a hearing aid or, in extreme cases, a cochlear implant, can be used to improve hearing.
If the problem is tinnitus, there are several useful therapies employed by many ear doctors. These include biofeedback and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Biofeedback trains the patient to control the automatic functions of the body that were previously thought to be beyond our control. This can help reduce stress and blood pressure and control heart rate. These will all have a positive effect on tinnitus.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works to improve skills to reduce internal attention to tinnitus and to devise alternate thought and behavior patterns to distract and habituate to the tinnitus sound.
Arches Tinnitus Formula (ATF) is helpful for many people who have tinnitus due to hearing loss. It improves circulation in the tiny microcapillaries that feed the inner ear, providing needed nutrients. It is also a potent antioxidant which reduces oxidative damage from damaged hearing cells. Its most important function is that it reduces glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that becomes predominant in the brains of tinnitus patients and leads to excitatory damage to the hearing cells and auditory neurons.
A prominent Manhattan ear, nose and throat physician has found ATF to be effective for 75-80% of his patients with hearing loss-induced tinnitus.