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COVID-19 linked to hearing loss and auditory issues

COVID-19 is causing mild to severe hearing loss and other auditory problems such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, according to a study led by the University of Manchester. Professor Kevin Munro said that while further research is needed, more than one in 10 COVID-19 patients have reported that something has changed with their hearing.

In collaboration with PhD researcher Ibrahim Almufarrij, Professor Munro reviewed 56 studies that identified an association between COVID-19 and auditory and vestibular problems.

After analyzing data from 24 of the studies, the researchers estimate that the prevalence of hearing loss is 7.6 percent, tinnitus is 14.8 percent and vertigo is 7.2 percent among individuals who contracted COVID-19.

At the same time, the experts describe the quality of the studies as fair. The data was primarily collected through self-reported questionnaires or medical records, rather than more scientifically reliable hearing tests.

“There is an urgent need for a carefully conducted clinical and diagnostic study to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the auditory system,” said Professor Munro.

“It is also well-known that viruses such as measles, mumps and meningitis can cause hearing loss; little is understood about the auditory effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

“Though this review provides further evidence for an association, the studies we looked at were of varying quality so more work needs to be done.”

Currently, Professor Munro leading a year-long study to investigate the potential long-term impacts of COVID-19 on hearing among people who were previously treated in the hospital for infection.

“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,” said Almufarrij.

“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.”

Professor Munro said that he received hundreds of emails from people who had reported hearing changes after having COVID-19. “While this is alarming, caution is required as it is unclear if changes to hearing are directly attributed to COVID-19 or to other factors, such as treatments to deliver urgent care.”

The study was funded by is NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

The research is published in the International Journal of Audiology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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