These days, we’re finding that most of our patients have elected to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. It’s no wonder that the spread of the disease, at least here in the United States, is on the downslope and the attention among many researchers is turning to people who got the virus and never fully recovered.
Known as “COVID long haulers,” this minority of patients got over the life-threatening aspects of the infection but never shook all the symptoms completely. According to a recent study, completed in Britain and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the estimate is that about 10 percent of COVID-19 patients fall into the long-COVID category.
But for some, symptoms included changes in their hearing, with the most common ear-related side effects for long haulers including tinnitus, vertigo, and hearing loss. More common long-COVID conditions include fatigue, breathing issues, joint pain, cognitive problems, and heart inflammation.
It is possible that issues with the circulatory system can cause subsequent issues in the ears, since they are very dependent on good blood flow (one reason why sufferers of diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss issues).
The problem is not only that the virus can attack parts of the body other than the lungs but also that the aftermath of treatment, especially intense hospitalization, can be traumatic.
Tinnitus, which is a persistent ringing sound, appears to be the most common hearing-related side effect. One study found that 40 percent of COVID patients already dealing with tinnitus reported that it got worse.
With this in mind, it is important to get to understand your current hearing abilities via a baseline evaluation, performed by a local hearing professional.
The plight of long haulers will continue to be studied. One encouraging development is that a significant number of patients have reported that their symptoms have markedly decreased after getting vaccinated (another medical development requiring further study).