How Covid-19 Could Affect Your Hearing

Patients have reported changes to their hearing after being diagnosed with coronavirus. Here's what we know so far.

Every Monday we’ll answer your questions on Covid-19 and health in a feature published online. You can submit a question here.

HuffPost UK reader Amy asked: ”Does having coronavirus affect your hearing? And why?”

As our understanding of coronavirus increases, so too does the list of symptoms associated with the virus. Loss or change to taste and smell was added to the list after a number of people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported this symptom. Now, some are wondering whether hearing loss should be added, after Covid-19 patients have reported changes.

A review of 54 studies identified an association between Covid-19 and hearing problems. The review, published in the International Journal of Audiology, found 7.6% of people report hearing loss after Covid. Meanwhile the prevalence of tinnitus is 14.8% and vertigo is 7.2%.

Professor Kevin Munro, professor of audiology at The University of Manchester and deputy director of the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, led the review of studies. He told HuffPost UK it is possible Covid-19 is linked with hearing loss – but why or to what extent is still unknown.

“We know that viruses – e.g. measles and mumps – can damage the ear, either the cochlea with the delicate sensory cells or the hearing nerve,” he said. “Some people who had SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Covid-19] are reporting hearing problems.”

There are a number of reasons why people hospitalised with Covid-19 may report changes to their hearing, including the fact it’s an unusual environment and face masks may change our perception of hearing. Anxiety about the pandemic may also lead to people reporting symptoms, plus it could be that drugs used to treat Covid-19 cause hearing loss, rather than the virus itself.

Studies on the subject to date have been of varying quality and reliability, so Professor Munro is leading a year-long UK study to investigate the possible long-term impact of Covid-19 on hearing among people who have been previously treated in hospital for the virus.

His team hope to estimate the number and severity of Covid-19 related hearing disorders in the UK, and discover what parts of the auditory system might be affected. They’ll also explore the association between these and other factors such as lifestyle, the presence of one or more additional conditions, and critical care interventions.

A separate study led by Professor Munro, suggested more than 13% of patients who were discharged from a hospital reported a change in their hearing.

PhD researcher Ibrahim Almufarrij, who worked with Professor Munro on the review, said: “Though the evidence is of varying quality, more and more studies are being carried out so the evidence base is growing. What we really need are studies that compare Covid-19 cases with controls, such as patients admitted to hospital with other health conditions.

“Though caution needs to be taken, we hope this study will add to the weight of scientific evidence that there is a strong association between Covid-19 and hearing problems.”

You can seek help for hearing loss if it’s troubling you. If you suddenly lose hearing in one or both ears, you should contact NHS 111 or your GP as soon as possible, advises the charity Action On Hearing Loss.

If you think you’ve experienced more gradual hearing loss, you should get a hearing test, particularly if you think you may be in need of help, such as a hearing aid.

“Due to the coronavirus outbreak, audiology providers have paused most face-to-face appointments, including non-urgent hearing tests,” the charity says. “Some audiology providers have re-started these services. However, there is a lot of variation across the UK and it is likely there will be longer waiting times for these appointments.”

Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus and nhs.uk.