By Pauline Dinnauer (VP, Audiological Care, Connect Hearing)
Just because it’s 2021, doesn’t mean the pandemic has ended. New Year’s Eve didn’t come with the flip of some magical switch that made COVID-19 disappear. COVID-19 is still very real, and very dangerous.
According to John Hopkins University, the virus has already claimed over two million lives. But even those who survive their brush with the disease might not be entirely out of the woods. There has been a steadily-growing body of evidence to suggest that COVID-19 may be responsible for a range of debilitating long-term effects.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these symptoms can last for weeks or months, and may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent cough
- Joint and chest pain
- Difficulty thinking and concentrating
- Muscle pains
- Intermittent fever
- Heart palpitations
- Issues with smell and taste
- Memory issues
- Heart inflammation
- Kidney damage
There could be even more long-term symptoms than seen above, too. even longer than the CDC suggests. This past October, meanwhile, medical journal BMJ Case Reports profiled a 45-year-old British man who suffered from rapid-onset hearing loss after being infected. A survey published in the International Journal of Audiology, meanwhile, saw one in 10 people self-report tinnitus or hearing impairment as a direct result of COVID.
It’s all rather frightening, at first glance, isn’t it? Let me be the first to caution you — take this information with a grain of salt. Most evidence we have of COVID-19’s long term effects is anecdotal, based on self-reporting from those who’ve fallen ill with the disease. The CDC is itself currently engaged in several multi-year studies to further analyze COVID’s long-term symptoms.
As for hearing impairment, we also have no guarantee of a connection there, either. While there’s a small chance that COVID-19 could exacerbate an underlying condition, it’s just as likely that the impairment is unrelated to the virus. It could just easily be a side-effect of medication.
“Antiviral medications have known adverse effects, including tinnitus and hearing loss…the symptoms may be misdiagnosed as being caused by COVID-19,” reads another study published in the International Journal of Audiology.
“Reports of audio-vestibular symptoms in confirmed COVID-19 cases are few and the publications are of poor quality…High-quality studies are required in different age groups to investigate the acute effects of coronavirus, including temporary effects that may be caused by, for example, medication, as well as for understanding long-term risks, on the audio-vestibular system.’
So, could COVID-19 be tied to hearing loss? We simply don’t know enough about the virus to say for certain. It’s not been around long enough for there to be an adequate body of peer-reviewed evidence into its long-term symptoms, and self-reporting can only be trusted to a certain point.
I want to emphasize that I am not saying the pandemic is not dangerous, nor that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. We’ve yet to fully understand the virus at this point in time. Even though we’ve developed a vaccine, there are still many things we don’t know, such as;
- Although per Live Science Magazine, we understand some of the risk factors that lead to severe infection, we still don’t know why it occasionally kills people without underlying conditions.
- How long someone’s antibodies render them immune to the virus after they’ve been infected.
- The viral load necessary for someone to be infected.
- If the virus spreads through both aerosols and droplets or solely through droplets.
In time, we’ll understand the long-term impact COVID-19 can have on its victims. But for now, it’s enough to say that it is one of the most dangerous pandemics we’ve faced in years. Wear your masks, obey all social distancing and lockdown guidance, and wash your hands.
Unless we take this seriously, it will only get worse.
Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.