If you've experienced ringing, buzzing or hissing in your ears, you may have a condition called tinnitus. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, tinnitus impacts around one-third of the U.S. population. While tinnitus symptoms vary from individual to individual, it is generally described by patients as:
It's generally understood that tinnitus is the result of damage to the inner ear (cochlea) and this damage creates the phantom sounds that cause tinnitus. This damage is part of the reason why it is estimated that around 80% of tinnitus sufferers have some form of hearing loss.
Does COVID cause Tinnitus?
Since the pandemic began, reports of people experiencing tinnitus and other hearing problems after contracting COVID-19 have emerged. It is well known that some viral infections may cause hearing loss, so it makes sense that the novel coronavirus could have an impact as well.
The death of Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor is bringing more attention to this troubling connection. Taylor, 65, died by suicide, and it has been reported that he had been battling post-Covid symptoms, including "severe tinnitus" at the time of his death.
Recently, a number of healthcare professionals have begun to dig deeper into this issue. In a review of hearing symptoms post-COVID diagnosis, 14.8% percent of patients reported tinnitus and tinnitus was the most commonly documented audio-vestibular symptom. The authors did caution that more exploration was necessary because many of these studies used non-validated self-reported questionnaires and had no comparator (control) group.
Another recent case study examined a patient that experienced tinnitus and sudden hearing loss post-infection.
Another survey-based study showed that 40% of respondents reported a worsening of their tinnitus during the pandemic. It is important to note that this survey was focused on those with pre-existing tinnitus. According to the authors "Pre-existing tinnitus was significantly exacerbated for those self-isolating, experiencing loneliness, sleeping poorly, and with reduced levels of exercise. Increased depression, anxiety, irritability, and financial worries further significantly contributed to tinnitus being more bothersome during the pandemic period." Based on this statement, it seems plausible that the virus may not be directly responsible for all of these cases and that some might be indirectly related due to social distancing and social isolation caused by the pandemic.
Vaccines and Tinnitus
It's clear that COVID vaccines are safe and helping to save lives. For example, a recent study published in the Journal Health Affairs estimates that by the second week of May 2021, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the US had prevented almost 140,000 deaths. But vaccines do not come without the occasional side effect. Recently the European Medicines Agency recommended that tinnitus be added as an adverse reaction warning on the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine. So in addition to infections causing the uptick in tinnitus cases, it's also possible that vaccinations are exacerbating the issue.
We still have a lot to learn about the short, medium and long-term impact of COVID-19. Not only is the disease new, but we are also dealing with new variants like Delta, which can impact outcomes, symptoms and more. While we are short of having definitive proof of a coronavirus-tinnitus connection, there does seem to be enough data to warrant further exploration. We look forward to keeping you posted on new research as it comes out. In the meantime, if you or a loved one are experiencing tinnitus, Dr. Kevin Ivory at La Canada Hearing Aids & Audiology can help. We have a number of tinnitus treatment options that can help provide relief. If you're in the La Canada or Pasadena area, please give us a call at (818) 928-1400.