As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly developed globally, researchers tried to quickly catch up by collecting as much information and data about the contagious virus. We are now aware of the common symptoms, duration, and effects of the virus. But more emerging research reveals a new symptom: tinnitus. Tinnitus refers to a ringing or buzzing-like noise in one or both ears. It is not a condition itself but is an underlying symptom of a medical condition. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, at least 10% of people in the U.S. experience tinnitus chronically. Tinnitus can be experienced mildly to profoundly, taking a toll on sleep and daily wellness. New research shows that COVID-19 can contribute to or exacerbate existing tinnitus.
Emerging Research Linking Coronavirus & Tinnitus
Researchers are still developing the correlation between coronavirus and tinnitus. Though tinnitus is not listed as a Covid-19 symptom by the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more and more cases reveal that people have experienced both conditions at the same time. The New York Times recently published: Some Covid-19 Patients Say They’re Left With Ringing Ears, which explores the link between COVID-19 and tinnitus. The article features two recent studies that provide more details:
- Journal of International Audiology, published in March 2021: researchers evaluated 60 patients with Covid-19 and found that 15% of people with the virus also experienced tinnitus. In discussing these findings, Kevin Munro, professor of audiology at the University of Manchester and co-author of the study, said that he has received nearly 100 emails after the study was published from people sharing that they have also experienced tinnitus and Covid-19. Munro also emphasized that viruses are known to impact hearing health. Stating, “we already know that viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss. Coronaviruses can damage the nerves that carry information to and from the brain.”
- Frontiers in Public Health Journal, published in 2020: researchers surveyed 3,100 people with tinnitus. 237 people experienced COVID-19, and 40% reported that their tinnitus was “significantly exacerbated.” A significant way tinnitus has been amplified by the virus is through stress. Researchers suggest that COVID-19 has increased stress factors: quarantine, isolation, loneliness, managing kids at home etc. These factors perpetuate stress which triggers tinnitus.
Additionally, researchers have also suggested that medications taken to treat COVID-19 could also be contributing to tinnitus. Researchers are continuing to collect data and study the correlation between both conditions.
Tips to Manage Tinnitus
Tinnitus impacts quality of sleep, ability to concentrate, complete tasks easily, participate in daily activities etc. As emerging research shows that COVID-19 can worsen tinnitus, it is crucial to practice strategies that can alleviate its impact. A few tips you can implement include the following:
- Reduce Stress: stress is a significant activator of tinnitus. Identifying stressors and establishing healthy ways to reduce and process stress can be incredibly helpful. A few ideas are: meditation, yoga, exercise, warm baths, aromatherapy etc.
- Create Ambient Noise: being in quiet settings can intensify tinnitus. Silent spaces can cause you to focus on the tinnitus, which amplifies it. Creating ambient noise is a great way to mask these sounds and prevent your attention from focusing on tinnitus. To do this, you can use a white noise machine, play soft sounds or music in the background, even use a fan!
- Protect Hearing: there are many ways to do this, like wearing protective gear (headphones, earbuds, earmuffs), which reduce the impact of loud noise; reduce your exposure to loud noise by maintaining low volume levels on electronic devices, avoid loud environments etc.
- Get Quality Sleep: tinnitus often significantly impacts sleep. Initiating and maintaining sleep throughout the night can be challenging. You can try to enhance your sleep by: ensuring you have comfortable bedding, going to sleep at the same time every night, establishing a relaxing sleep routine, avoiding using electronic devices (and looking at screens) at least 30 minutes before going to bed etc.
- Increase Physical Activity: Increasing physical activity on a daily basis has many benefits: provides the body with more energy, enhances mood, and is a great way to process stress. These benefits can alleviate tinnitus.
If you have experienced changes in your hearing, it is important to seek a hearing test. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!