Another worrisome long-term side effect of COVID-19 appears to be tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears. An early study found that as many as 15% of people who get the disease report this often intolerable symptom.
According to Business Insider, the persistent ringing in the ears may have led to the suicide of the 65-year-old restaurateur Kent Taylor on March 18. The founder of the Texas Roadhouse chain was battling post-COVID-19 related symptoms including severe tinnitus.
Taylor’s family said that his suffering became unbearable. Before he took his own life, he created a fund to help researchers treat members of the military who also experienced the disorder.
In the U.K., the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) reported a surge in the number of people accessing their resources since the beginning of the pandemic. According to The Guardian, the helpline had a 256% increase in the number of web chats from May to December 2020 compared to the previous year.
Tinnitus-related searches on Google also soared during the pandemic, and experts say that even people who already had tinnitus said that COVID-19 made their situation worse.
“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” said one sufferer. Aisling Starrs. The 38-year-old Brit told The Guardian that she has had tinnitus for two years, but since she got COVID-19, her symptoms intensified.
“The level of noise in my left ear has one from a three to a seven,” she said. “Six months later, and it hasn’t gone.”
Dr. Kevin Munro, a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester who led a study on the topic, wrote that “hearing loss and other auditory problems are strongly associated with COVID-19,” after he and his associates reviewed 56 reports about the connection.
The researchers found 15% of people who had COVID-19 said they developed tinnitus, 7.6% reported hearing loss, and 7.2% reported vertigo, dizziness that is also associated with inner ear damage.
Munro said that after he published his study, he received over 100 emails from grateful patients who said their own healthcare providers has dismissed their post-COVID symptoms.
“We are waiting for a high-quality, definitive study to confirm this number,” Munro told Insider via email. “We know that some viruses can damage the ear so this impossible with SARS-CoV-2.”
Measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss, according to The Conversation. Munro added that tinnitus, which normally affects about 15% of adults in general, often becomes more annoying when the sufferer is anxious or stressed and not sleeping well, conditions that rose during the pandemic, according to Insider.
According to Euronews, a study published in The Lancet also noted that anxiety and depression also plagued patients with long-term symptoms which could create a vicious cycle, making tinnitus even more severe.
About 2 million Americans have “debilitating cases” of tinnitus, says the American Tinnitus Association, adding that 50 million of us have some episodes of the disorder during our lifetimes.
While the British National Health Service does list tinnitus as a side effect of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organizations do not, per Insider.
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