After a year’s worth of pandemic life, we know a few things for sure about the coronavirus. We know that, usually, it’s characterized by a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but please do not discount the possibility of: chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell, gastrointestinal issues, nausea, vomiting, runny nose, congestion, painful lesions on the toes, or, frustratingly, a lack of any symptoms at all. That’s a lot to look out for, and according to an analysis out of the U.K., we may eventually be able to add another COVID-19 flag to the list: hearing loss. It never ends!
Specifically, the data — sourced from 56 studies mentioning auditory issues in people with confirmed coronavirus infections — points to side effects including tinnitus, vertigo, and difficulty with hearing. Pooling figures from 24 of those studies, scientists found a nearly 15 percent prevalence of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and about a 7 percent incidence of hearing loss and vertigo, respectively. The review relied mostly on COVID patients’ medical records and their responses to questionnaires, and its authors called for both clinical and diagnostic studies to investigate the apparent link.
“Though the evidence is of varying quality, more and more studies are being carried out so the evidence base is growing,” Ibrahim Almufarrij, a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Manchester, said in a statement. “What we really need are studies that compare COVID-19 cases with controls, such as patients admitted to hospital with other health conditions.”
Still, Kevin Munro, the professor of audiology at the University of Manchester who is leading a yearlong study looking at potential long-term effects of the coronavirus on hearing, pointed out that hearing loss can occur during other viral infections, including the measles, mumps, and meningitis. “Over the last few months, I have received numerous emails from people who reported a change in their hearing, or tinnitus, after having COVID-19,” he said. But “while this is alarming,” he added, “caution is required, as it is unclear if changes to hearing are directly attributed to COVID-19 or to other factors, such as treatments to deliver urgent care.” Meaning, as it often seems to be the case when it comes to the coronavirus, there’s still so much we just don’t know.