Rebecca Edgar, 29, struggled to hear her toddler’s voice as he spoke to her from the back seat of a car. Most nights she struggled to fall asleep, so anxious that her tinnitus grew louder and realized that it was the stress that was aggravating her symptoms.
“I’ve had tinnitus continuously for the past 20 years, but without a doubt, this is the worst time I have tinnitus,” said Edgar, in Essex County, southeast England. “I have a hearing loss in one ear and I am very afraid that catching Covid-19 may destroy what is left of my hearing.”
Her fear may not be unfounded.
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Tinnitus ̵1; a condition characterized by hissing sounds, bells, hums and hissing in the ears – can be triggered by many factors, including exposure to loud noise, damage to the inner ear, and stress. . And while experts say pandemic stress could be linked to worsening tinnitus symptoms, there is growing evidence that the virus itself may play a role as well.
A study published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Public Health found that 40% of people with Covid-19 symptoms reported that their tinnitus was getting worse. The study of more than 3,000 participants self-reported whether they have experienced changes in their hearing since the pandemic began. About 250 participants reported Covid-19 symptoms, although only 26 had tested positive for the virus.
In about a third of study participants who had pre-pandemic tinnitus, the “combination of lifestyle, social and emotional factors in a pandemic” appears to have turned their tinnitus back on. even worse, study lead author Eldre Beukes, a researcher at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.
The study also identified seven participants who said they first noticed changes in hearing when they developed symptoms of Covid-19, suggesting that hearing damage could be a symptom of the with some people.
The cause remains unclear, although this is not the first case of Covid-19’s involvement with hearing problems.
A study published in July in the International Journal of Audiology found that nearly 15% of the 138 Covid-19 patients hospitalized reported impaired hearing after eight weeks of discharge. The majority of these patients did not report any hearing problems before being diagnosed with Covid-19. And a case report published in The BMJ, a British medical journal, described a man in England who lost his hearing while hospitalized with a severe Covid-19 disease.
“A lot of viruses affect the ears, so it is possible that infection with the SARS-Cov-2 virus has caused tinnitus in some people,” Beukes said of the virus that causes Covid-19. . “However, people who go through a really stressful period may also experience tinnitus due to that stress.”
Indeed, research has long linked excessive stress with tinnitus symptoms. Beukes’ study found that nearly a third of people report stress factors, including fear of Covid-19 infection, financial anxiety, loneliness and difficulty sleeping, as factors that contribute to tinnitus of the ears. they get worse.
However, other experts say stress alone cannot account for all new or exacerbated cases of tinnitus during a pandemic.
Damage to small blood vessels
Although SARS-Cov-2 is a respiratory virus, what amazes scientists, doctors, and patients is the range of symptoms – unrelated to the respiratory system – that can cause.
One of those symptoms is loss of smell, and according to Dr. Matthew Stewart, associate professor of ENT at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the same mechanisms behind that strange symptom may also contribute to hearing loss. force.
Stewart, who wasn’t involved in the new study, said when a person is infected with a coronavirus, the body spills into the bloodstream with platelet-forming cells that normally reside in the bone marrow. These cells are larger than most blood cells and can become trapped in the small blood vessels of the nose. These blockages, plus a blood clot – another Covid-19 complication – can lead to a loss of nerve function in the nose, which may explain why loss of smell is a common symptom of Covid-19, he said.
“The same thing can happen to the small blood vessels in the ear,” Stewart said. “Just as the odor-activating tissues are damaged by Covid-19, we are concerned that the tissues in the ear are also affected and that this damage may persist after the virus disappears.”
Stewart’s own study found evidence of an inner ear virus. In a study published in July in the Journal of the American Medical Association, he described autopsy on three patients who died from Covid-19 and had detectable virus in the middle ear. and the mastoid bone in the skull, which is also part of the ear.
Another theory suggests that instead of being caused by a virus, hearing damage could be an undesirable consequence of the body’s immune system response, possibly causing the body to attack its own organs in when trying to fight the invaders, according to Kevin Munro, director. of the Manchester Center for Audiology and Deafness in England.
“Tinnitus is sometimes the first sign of an ear damage,” said Munro, who wasn’t involved in the new study.
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More research is still needed to determine whether tinnitus is a true Covid-19 symptom, or a consequence of stress. Munro will soon begin a study aimed at better understanding whether viruses have a direct effect on mechanisms that allow humans to hear. He also hopes to determine why some Covid-19 users experience tinnitus and others do not and what potential conditions are likely to occur.
“The current number of tinnitus patients is quite high, and those present may need additional support,” said Munro. “We need to take them seriously, and the next thing is to understand if ear damage is psychological or not so we can properly treat it.”
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