Coronavirus: Can ‘ringing’ in the ears be a symptom of COVID-19? What the research says

Tinnitus: Dr Philippa Kaye discusses common symptoms

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The word “tinnitus” defines a non-serious condition in which a person hears sounds that do not correspond to a real external sound source. The phenomenon is especially common in older adults. It affects between 15 to 20 percent of people. The sound heard is often described as ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, and humming.

These noises could vary in pitch and frequency and can affect one or both ears.

Tinnitus is usually caused by an existing health condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injuries, or cardiovascular problems.

Among other causes are stress, anxiety, and depression.

Some people have reported that ringing in the ears increased during the pandemic, raising questions around the link between tinnitus and COVID-19.

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Researchers at the University of Manchester estimated that 7.6 percent of people infected by SARS-CoV-2 experienced sudden deafness.

While 14.8 percent suffered from tinnitus and 7.2 percent from vertigo.

Most studies indicated tinnitus as an early onset symptom in people with COVID-19.

The ringing in the ear usually lasted from a few days to a few weeks.

A number of other studies on tinnitus carried out in the past two years found that the condition is rather linked to sleep problems, poor mental health, and suicidal thoughts as a consequence of the pandemic.

A joint research project by the University of Cambridge, the Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust, and Florida Atlantic University decided to study the potential effects of COVID-19 on the experience of tinnitus.

Researchers found no obvious links between the condition and SARS-CoV-2 – the viral infection that causes COVID-19 .

That is why they went on to explore the possible effects of lockdowns on the experience and severity of tinnitus.

The study measured “ringing” severity based on its loudness, annoyance, and effect on life.

Data analysis did not support the idea that the pandemic led to a worsening of tinnitus loudness, annoyance, or impact on life.

“Visual analog scale scores for tinnitus loudness, annoyance, and impact on life did not differ significantly between new patients seen prior to and during lockdown,” said Doctor Hashir Aazh.

He suggested that tinnitus can surely have an impact on anxiety and well-being, “but there is not an effect in the opposite direction”.

Debate on whether tinnitus can be a symptom of, or associated with, COVID-19 is still open.

It is a good idea to see a doctor when “ringing” in the ear becomes regular, consistent and it affects everyday life.

The condition could be an indication of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, Ménière’s disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

Treatments include counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and sound therapy.

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