Tinnitus affects millions of people worldwide and is characterized by a persistent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in the ears. COVID-19, on the other hand, is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has affected millions of people globally since its emergence in 2019. While these two things may seem unrelated, there is growing evidence to suggest that COVID-19 may be linked to patients developing tinnitus. Here, we will explore this potential connection in more detail.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom that causes a person to hear sounds that are not present in their environment. These sounds can range from a low-pitched hum to a high-pitched ringing and can be constant or intermittent. Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors, including exposure to loud noise, ear infections, and aging.
While tinnitus itself is not a disease, it can be a symptom of an underlying condition. However, the conditions that cause tinnitus are quite varied and can be caused by many different sources, including some viral and bacterial infections.
COVID-19 and Tinnitus
Since the emergence of COVID-19, there have been reports of patients experiencing tinnitus as a symptom of the illness. One study conducted in the United Kingdom found that of the patients who experienced symptoms of COVID-19, 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus. Another study published by the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience found an increased rate of emergent tinnitus cases amongst those infected by COVID relative to those who were not.
However, there is a great deal of variance in these findings. Additionally, the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdown created many environmental pressures that also exacerbated tinnitus. Indeed, a study by the University of Regensburg found that those who experienced greater stress during the COVID-19 lockdown experienced worse tinnitus outcomes.
Because tinnitus is perceived in the limbic system, emotional or unconscious stress that over-activates the limbic system could cause a worsening condition of tinnitus. This could provide a mechanism for why many with tinnitus reported worse conditions following the pandemic.
However, it should be noted that these studies are largely anecdotal, and no significant research has been done to examine the link between tinnitus and COVID-19 directly. However, other viruses such as varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox) and measles (among others) can cause tinnitus, so it is possible that coronavirus could have a similar mechanism that may cause tinnitus. This is further supported by one study that found that coronavirus is capable of infecting human inner ear cells, offering a potential underlying mechanism.
Implications and Treatment
The potential link between COVID-19 and tinnitus has several implications for patients and healthcare providers. If this link is further elaborated on, it could create a new standard of care for COVID-19 patients. Healthcare providers should be aware of this link and be prepared to screen patients for auditory symptoms, even referring patients to a qualified audiologist as needed.
Likewise, patients who have experienced tinnitus as a symptom of COVID-19 may require additional testing and treatment to address their auditory symptoms, as standard doctors are not typically trained to address audiology problems. The link, if supported, could bring in audiologists as part of the standard care model for COVID-19 in order to treat tinnitus and other auditory problems.
Treatment for tinnitus can vary depending on the underlying cause. Common treatment options for tinnitus include sound therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and some medication. In many cases, treatment can be highly effective, especially if the cause is a treatable bacterial or viral infection. However, it is important for patients to seek treatment early to address their symptoms before any underlying auditory problems worsen.
How Can You Help Researchers Investigate The Link Between COVID And Tinnitus?
The possible link between COVID-19 and tinnitus also highlights a greater need for research. The problem with many studies is their inability to garner a large sample size. There are several studies currently in need of people eager to share their experiences with COVID and tinnitus. This survey, sponsored by the University of Illinois, is one such study and is in great need of anyone who experienced tinnitus after contracting COVID or taking the COVID vaccine. If you received a coronavirus vaccine and your tinnitus became louder, report the side effect to the FDA/CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
Conclusion – Is There A Connection Between Tinnitus And COVID-19?
While more research is needed to fully understand the link between COVID-19 and tinnitus, there is evidence, albeit tenuous, to suggest that there may be a connection. Additionally, further research is needed to explore the mechanisms behind this possible link, which can lead to the development of more targeted and effective treatment options. Until this connection is better researched, we can only work to provide the best care for those who are impacted by COVID-19 and tinnitus.
If you are interested in helping researchers find out more about this connection, consider participating in this University of Illinois survey to share your experiences with tinnitus and COVID-19, including the vaccine.
If you are experiencing ringing in the ears that continues beyond a week, becomes bothersome, starts to interfere with your sleep and/or your concentration, or makes you depressed or anxious, you need to work with a medical professional that specializes in the treatment of tinnitus. At Sound Relief Hearing Center, we have built our family-owned audiology practice specifically to help patients find relief from tinnitus. We understand the life-changing impact of tinnitus, and we give our patients the time and help they need to get back to their best life. If you, a family member, or a friend is suffering from tinnitus, reach out to us today and schedule an appointment.