LONDON — Throughout 2020, physicians have gotten a fairly good understanding of what to look for when a patient has COVID-19. While the most severe cases will lead to lung damage and respiratory failure, a report from the United Kingdom has now documented a new and disturbing side-effect of the virus. Researchers say a patient has suffered sudden and permanent hearing loss due to COVID-19.
The report by the British Medical Journal says this is the first documented case of hearing loss linked to the pandemic in the country. The patient, a 45-year-old man with asthma, had been hospitalized for COVID. Researchers note that the man was admitted after experiencing symptoms of the virus for 10 days. He was later transferred to intensive care due with breathing issues and placed on a ventilator for 30 days.
The 45-year-old eventually recovered after treatments including remdesivir, intravenous steroids, and a blood transfusion. After leaving the ICU however, the patient developed ringing in his left ear (tinnitus) followed by sudden hearing loss.
“Despite the considerable literature on COVID-19 and the various symptoms associated with the virus, there is a lack of discussion on the relationship between COVID-19 and hearing,” study authors write in their report.
“Hearing loss and tinnitus are symptoms that have been seen in patients with both COVID-19 and influenza virus, but have not been highlighted.”
Researchers add the first case of hearing loss solely linked to COVID was reported by physicians in April of 2020. The U.K. patient had no health issues aside from asthma and steroid injections could only restore part of his hearing.
How does coronavirus impact hearing loss?
The study notes that ear, nose, and throat specialists commonly encounter patients experiencing sudden hearing loss. Between five and 160 cases are reported for every 100,000 people each year. Despite seeing these issues frequently, the exact cause of sudden hearing loss isn’t known.
This side-effect can follow viral infections like the flu, herpes, and cytomegalovirus. In terms of coronavirus, researchers say the cells COVID attacks in the lungs live in the middle ear as well. SARS-CoV-2 triggers an inflammatory response which increases the production of chemicals which also have a connection to hearing loss.
“This is the first reported case of sensorineural hearing loss following COVID-19 infection in the UK,” the authors report. “Given the widespread presence of the virus in the population and the significant morbidity of hearing loss, it is important to investigate this further.”
“This is especially true given the need to promptly identify and treat the hearing loss and the current difficulty in accessing medical services,” researchers conclude.
The study appears in the journal BMJ Case Reports.