The COVID-19 coronavirus has changed the world in the last year. The scientific community has risen to the challenge of understanding this mysterious condition, and information is pouring in day by day to help fill in the picture. One of the things that makes the condition even more difficult to understand is the wide array of symptoms that are associated. The list includes some common links, such as respiratory challenges, fever, and loss of smell. The list also includes some concerning other conditions that seem to be exacerbated by COVID-19 or can even be considered side effects, such as Parkinson’s disease, inflammation of the heart muscle, acute kidney injury and hair loss.
When scientists try to understand how the novel coronavirus works, they need to identify the extent of other conditions, providing crucial understanding of the inner workings of infection. Some recent studies have demonstrated a connection with tinnitus, particularly that those who develop a COVID-19 infection find that tinnitus symptoms become worse. This information can help the medical and scientific communities better understand how COVID-19 works and how to stop its spread.
When we talk about tinnitus and its symptoms, what exactly do they entail? In general, people think of tinnitus as a ringing in the ears, but in fact those with tinnitus have a wide range of symptoms. Some hear a sound like ringing or a high-pitched constant frequency, indeed, but others hear hissing, whooshing, roaring, or buzzing. What these sounds have in common is that they are not connected to a sound originating outside the body. For a few people, tinnitus can originate from a sound within the body, such as a circulatory issue or bone problem close to the ear.
For the majority of tinnitus patients, the sound is due to damage in the cochlea of the inner ear, specifically the tiny hairlike organelles of the stereocilia. These fragile parts of the body must be sensitive to fluctuations in sound vibration, but that same sensitivity makes them susceptible to bending or breaking. In some cases, damage to the stereocilia leads to hearing loss, but in other cases damage can in effect turn “on” these receptors. Although the external sound stimulus goes away, the sound remains in the internal space of the auditory process.
Connections with COVID-19
Recent studies have established a strong link between tinnitus and COVID-19. Specifically, those who already had tinnitus prior to contracting COVID-19 found that their symptoms became worse. One study looked at over 3,000 people with tinnitus. Among them, 237 people also contracted COVID-19. For those who had both tinnitus and COVID-19, a full 40% found that their symptoms became significantly worse after diagnosis. Another exploratory study looked at 60 case reports and studies. Of these reports, 15 percent reported tinnitus symptoms. These exploratory results are not yet conclusive, and few studies of coinfection and comorbidity with COVID-19 have become scientifically certain. Yet, these studies open the door to more research possibilities. When possible, the scientific community will rise to the challenge of understanding how the novel coronavirus might be exacerbating tinnitus symptoms.
Although there is no single way to eliminate tinnitus symptoms altogether, there are ever-better ways to improve the experience of tinnitus. Some people find that background noise can help, and they might turn on fans, television, or white-noise machines to mask the experience of tinnitus. Although these approaches are a starting place, we can offer treatment options.
With hearing aids— which is helpful for those who have both tinnitus and hearing loss—a sound or tone can be provided that in effect cancels out the sound of tinnitus. Rather than providing a haze of background sound like a white-noise generator might supply, these devices can zero in on the tinnitus tones to provide relief.
If you are interested in treatment for tinnitus, the first step is to contact us! Many people find that they have both tinnitus and hearing loss, so a hearing test will most likely be the first step. Once you have a full diagnosis of hearing ability, we can discuss tinnitus treatment options available to you.