Is the novel coronavirus exacerbating tinnitus? Yes, suggests the findings of a new study.
In a study of 3,103 people across 48 countries with tinnitus — what’s defined as the “perception of noise or ringing in the ears,” per the Mayo Clinic — researchers with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge, England, found that 40% of participants who showed symptoms of COVID-19 “simultaneously experience a worsening of their tinnitus,” according to a news release accompanying the study.
Additionally, while the study focused mostly on those who already suffered from tinnitus, the researchers also found that a “small number” of participants said their tinnitus was triggered after they developed symptoms of COVID-19, indicating that tinnitus “could be a ‘long COVID’ symptom in some cases,” per the release. (“Long COVID” is when patients suffer symptoms of the novel disease for weeks to months on end even after recovering from an initial infection.)
Many study participants also reported that their tinnitus has worsened since social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of the novel virus began.
More specifically, 46% of study respondents in the United Kingdom said that lifestyle changes due to COVID-19 have negatively impacted their tinnitus, while 29% of respondents in North America said the same.
Tinnitus is not a condition itself, but rather is a sign of one, such as age-related hearing loss, an earwax blockage, or stiffening of the bones of the middle year, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those who suffer from tinnitus may also experience anxiety or depression due to the impact on their quality of life, per the clinic.
“Internal worries such as fear of catching COVID-19, financial concerns, loneliness and trouble sleeping have contributed to making tinnitus more bothersome for 32% of people overall, with external factors such as increased video calls, noisier home environments, homeschooling and increased coffee and alcohol consumption also cited by respondents,” per the release. “Females and the under-50s found tinnitus significantly more bothersome during the pandemic.”
What’s more, the study authors suggested, the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for those who suffer from tinnitus to seek treatment for it, which could “further increase emotional distress and worsen tinnitus symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.”
“The findings of this study highlight the complexities associated with experiencing tinnitus and how both internal factors, such as increased anxiety and feelings of loneliness, and external factors, such as changes to daily routines, can have a significant effect on the condition,” said lead author Dr. Eldre Beukes, a research fellow at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge, England, and Lamar University in Texas, in a statement.
“Some of the changes brought about by COVID-19 appear to have had a negative impact on the lives of people with tinnitus and participants in this study reported that COVID-19 symptoms are worsening or, in some cases, even initiating tinnitus and hearing loss. This is something that needs to be closely examined by both clinical and support services.”