With over nine months now since the beginning of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, you can probably list the common symptoms of COVID-19: fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, a cough, a new loss of taste or smell, fatigue, and more. But did you know that COVID has also been linked to sudden hearing loss?
Sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) is a rapid, unexplained hearing loss that happens instantly or over just a few days. Also called sudden deafness, sudden hearing loss most often affects only one ear. In most cases, the cause is unknown.
In past months, a handful of cases of sudden hearing loss have been linked to COVID-19. In the first documented case of COVID-19-related sudden hearing loss in the UK, the patient had been admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) for serious symptoms. The 45-year-old male patient had asthma and was experiencing difficulty breathing due to COVID-19. He was placed on a ventilator for 30 days and received treatment with antiviral drug remdesivir. Once his condition began to improve, the man was released from the ICU and went home.
Approximately a week after going home from the hospital, however, the man noticed tinnitus (ringing in the ear) in his left ear. The tinnitus was followed by sudden hearing loss in that ear. The man had not experienced hearing problems in the past and was healthy prior to the COVID-19 diagnosis. After evaluating the man with both a physical exam and an MRI, doctors could not pinpoint a cause for the sudden hearing loss. This led them to theorize that the man’s sudden hearing loss was connected to COVID-19.
The patient underwent steroid treatment, which is the usual course of treatment for sudden hearing loss. This treatment partially improved his hearing but did not restore it to normal. In cases of sudden hearing loss, treatment outcomes are best when the steroids can be administered soon after the condition presents itself. The patient noted that his hearing loss may have started earlier than he realized due to the difficulty of recognizing his hearing loss in the busy hospital ICU.
At present, only a handful of cases of sudden hearing loss have been associated with COVID-19 (in Germany, Egypt, and Turkey), and doctors are uncertain as to how the two conditions are connected. They have hypothesized that the link may be found in the cells that line the middle ear. These cells have ACE-2 receptors, which the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) uses to get inside cells. Further research must be done to further explore the connection between COVID-19 and sudden hearing loss.
For patients diagnosed with COVID-19, screening for sudden hearing loss may present the best chance for identifying the condition early and allowing for fast treatment. If you have COVID-19, be aware of your hearing ability and report any hearing loss to your doctors as soon as possible. Early treatment is the best option for possibly recovering your hearing.
If you would like to learn more about the connection between sudden hearing loss and COVID-19, we welcome you to contact our hearing practice today. We are happy to answer your questions.