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Now over one year into the global pandemic, emerging studies are investigating the relationship between hearing loss and Covid19. Specifically, ongoing research is looking at tinnitus as a symptom of the virus. Tinnitus is one the most common symptoms of hearing loss. Tinnitus describes a ringing, buzzing, clicking-like noise in one or both ears when no external sound is present. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, at least 10% of people in the U.S. experience chronic tinnitus. It is not a condition itself but rather an underlying symptom of a health issue. Studies are finding that people are experiencing worsened tinnitus as a result of Covid19 and some are experiencing it for the first time.
Link Between Coronavirus & Tinnitus
Viral infections are a common cause of tinnitus. The New York Times recently published an article exploring recent findings that reveal people’s experience with both tinnitus and covid19. Emerging studies have shown that people who have contracted the virus have also experienced worsened tinnitus, and in fewer cases, have experienced tinnitus for the first time. Two of the studies investigating the correlation include:
- Journal of International Audiology, published in March 2021: researchers evaluated various Covid19 cases; after analyzing nearly 60 cases, they found that 15% of adults who contracted the virus also reported experiencing tinnitus symptoms. Currently, researchers are following up with people to learn more about their tinnitus symptoms. In fact, Kevin Munro who co-authored the study (also a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester) commented to the New York Times that since the publication of the study, he’s received nearly 100 emails from people who have also experienced both conditions.
- Frontiers in Public Health Journal, published in 2020: out of 3,100 people with tinnitus that researchers surveyed, 237 also developed Covid19. 40% of the 237 people reported that their already existing tinnitus was “significantly exacerbated” by the virus. Researchers suggested various factors that could explain this including:
- stress: a major trigger for tinnitus is stress. The pandemic has increased stress in a variety of ways: working from home, social distancing and quarantine measures, lack of social engagement, heightened anxiety about catching the virus etc.
- consumption of triggers: increased stressors could potentially lead to increased consumption of coffee and alcohol which also trigger tinnitus.
- medications: taking medications to deal with the virus and associated symptoms could also exacerbate tinnitus.
It is important to note that tinnitus is currently unlisted as a Covid19 symptom by the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, tinnitus is listed by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service as a symptom of the virus.
Tips to Manage Tinnitus
Tinnitus can have far-reaching effects on daily life: lack of sleep, irritability, difficulty completing everyday tasks, etc. As the research on Covid19 and tinnitus continues to develop, it is important to practice ways that you can effectively manage tinnitus. There are various ways you can alleviate its impact including the following:
- Reduce Stress: identifying stressors and working to reduce them or process them healthily can help alleviate tinnitus. A few ways you can explore doing this is by increasing physical activity, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, etc.
- Wear Protective Gear: protecting your hearing health by wearing specific gear is a great way to reduce tinnitus. This includes earmuffs, headphones, and earplugs which serve as a barrier, reducing the amount and impact of sound that you absorb which can reduce tinnitus.
- Create Ambient Noise: ambient noise can mask tinnitus, shifting your focus off of the sound which can provide relief. You can create ambient noise by using a white noise machine, playing music or the television in the background, etc.
- Enhance Sleep: tinnitus can significantly impact sleep by reducing one’s ability to fall and/or maintain sleep. This then worsens tinnitus which again, takes a toll on sleep quality. You can break this cycle by being proactive about enhancing your sleep. There are numerous ways to do this: developing a sleep routine, ensuring bedding is comfortable, adjusting lighting, taking a warm shower before bed, avoiding using screens at least 30min prior to sleeping, using essential oils to aid with destressing, etc.