This week, HuffPost UK reader Amy asked: ”Does having coronavirus affect your hearing? And why?”
As our understanding of coronavirus increases, so too does the list of recognised symptoms. Loss or change to taste and smell was added to the list, for example, after a number of people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported this symptom.
Now, some are wondering whether loss of hearing should be added to the list, too, after some Covid-19 patients have reported changes.
A study led by researchers at The University of Manchester reviewed the clinical history and outcomes of 121 people hospitalised with Covid-19. The results, published in the International Journal of Audiology, found 16 (13.2%) patients reported a change in hearing and/or tinnitus since having Covid-19.
However, a second analysis by experts in Manchester, who reviewed the studies to date on the topic, concluded: “Reports of audio-vestibular symptoms in confirmed Covid-19 cases are few and the publications are of poor quality.”
Professor Kevin Munro, professor of audiology at The University of Manchester and deputy director of the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, was involved in both Manchester studies. He says it is possible Covid-19 is linked with hearing loss – but why or to what extent is still unknown.
“We know that viruses – e.g. measles and mumps – can damage the ear, either the cochlea with the delicate sensory cells or the hearing nerve,” he tells HuffPost UK. “Some people who had SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Covid-19] are reporting hearing problems.”
It’s too early to say for certain that hearing loss is caused by Covid-19 though, adds Professor Munro.
There are a number of reasons why people hospitalised with Covid-19 may report changes to their hearing, including the fact it’s an unusual environment and face masks may change our perception of hearing. Anxiety about the pandemic may also lead to people reporting symptoms, plus it could be that drugs used to treat Covid-19 cause hearing loss, rather than the virus itself.
“We are about to commence a comprehensive clinical and diagnostic study of hearing in people who had Covid-19,” Professor Munro adds. “This will be the first study of its kind and it will help us understand why so many are reporting hearing problems.”
Until the results of that study are published, you can still seek help for hearing loss if it’s troubling you. If you suddenly lose hearing in one or both ears, you should contact NHS 111 or your GP as soon as possible, advises the charity Action On Hearing Loss.
If you think you’ve experienced more gradual hearing loss, you should get a hearing test, particularly if you think you may be in need of help, such as a hearing aid.
“Due to the coronavirus outbreak, audiology providers have paused most face-to-face appointments, including non-urgent hearing tests,” the charity says. “Some audiology providers have re-started these services. However, there is a lot of variation across the UK and it is likely there will be longer waiting times for these appointments.”
Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus and nhs.uk.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.