Does COVID cause hearing loss? As the Omicron variant causes a spike in cases in Australia and around the world, Starkey’s Chief Health Officer Archelle Georgiou, MD, provides insights to a few common questions.
What do experts know so far about COVID-19 and hearing loss?
Dr Georgiou — Multiple studies have shown that COVID-19 can be associated with hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus and ear pain. These studies do not prove that COVID causes hearing loss or hearing-related symptoms, but it certainly suggests that it’s possible. Between 7-15% of people with COVID complain of these hearing-related problems. The risk of developing these symptoms may be higher in people who are hospitalized.
How surprising is it that COVID is associated with hearing loss symptoms?
Dr Georgiou — It’s not surprising. Here’s why:
Other viruses like measles, hepatitis and cytomegalovirus cause hearing loss. And, in fact, any infection resulting in a high fever can be associated with hearing symptoms.
Research studies identified the SARS CoV2 virus in the middle and scientists at MIT have shown how the virus may also invade the inner ear.
COVID affects other senses like taste and smell, so hearing could be affected as well.
Are hearing-related symptoms temporary or permanent?
Dr Georgiou — We don’t know how long hearing-related symptoms persist and what the long-term outcomes are. That’s why we need to have more research. What’s important is that anyone with new hearing-related symptoms, especially if they’ve come on suddenly and in the context of COVID, should see their doctor, an ENT or an audiologist quickly. In some instances, there may be immediate treatments that can give you relief and may even address the symptom so it’s not permanent.
What’s the risk if you wait a long time to see a doctor?
Dr Georgiou — We don’t know what the long-term risks are from COVID-related hearing symptoms. But we do know that hearing impairment makes it difficult to communicate and is a risk for social isolation, loneliness, and depression. What a lot of people don’t know about long-term, untreated hearing loss is that it’s also associated with dementia.
Whether you have hearing-related symptoms due to COVID, or hearing-related symptoms due to more common reasons, like noise-induced hearing loss or age-related hearing loss, it’s important to get your hearing addressed early. Don’t wait the typical five to seven years to see an audiologist if you have hearing loss symptoms. Our hearing health is essential.