Tinnitus Post COVID-19: New Long Haul Symptom
It’s heartbreaking that the coronavirus pandemic has claimed so many lives, and ruined so many others. One of the more recent tragedies our primary care doctors have noted is the suicide of the founder and CEO of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, who committed suicide last month. According to a statement from his family, Kent Taylor had battled “unbearable” post-COVID-19-related symptoms. These included severe tinnitus, a loud ringing or buzzing sound in the ears.
What is tinnitus
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), tinnitus (pronounced “tin-NY-tus” or “TIN-u-tus”) is commonly described as a ringing in the ears. It can also sound like a roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing, in one or both ears.
The noise may come and go, and NIDCD, an arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), estimates that in the past year approximately 10 percent of the U.S. adult population has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes. This equates to nearly 25 million Americans. About 20 million experience tinnitus as a chronic condition and two million of those suffering from extreme and debilitating cases, according to the American Tinnitus Association.
Numerous causes, triggers
There are several possible causes of tinnitus. NIDCD explains that it’s not a specific disease. It is a symptom of other conditions, abnormalities, or injuries to the auditory system. The latter comprises the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound.
Some of the health conditions that may trigger tinnitus include:
- noise-induced hearing loss
- ear and sinus infections
- diseases of the heart or blood vessels
- Meniere’s disease
- various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC)
- brain tumors
- hormonal changes in women
- thyroid abnormalities
NIDCD says sometimes the cause can be as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal. It is also sometimes the first sign of hearing loss in older people. And some individuals develop tinnitus for no apparent reason.
Now it appears we may have to add infection with coronavirus as another cause, although some experts disagree.
One study, published in the International Journal of Audiology, reviewed data from 24 different studies on the link between COVID-19 and hearing problems. The researchers estimated that nearly 15 percent of those infected experienced post-COVID-19 tinnitus.
Kevin Munro, Ph.D., a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester in the U.K., told Yahoo Life that his study shows “the long-term health consequences of COVID might be quite wide and extend well beyond a respiratory disease.”
Munro is correct because doctors around the world have known since last summer that COVID-19 patients often experience severe effects. This includes heart inflammation that can lead to cardiac arrest, acute kidney disease, liver problems. It also includes intestinal and liver damage, and neurological malfunction.
It’s not surprising that a significant number of those who have recovered are experiencing lingering symptoms of the illness. Known as long-haul COVID, the condition has exhibited some 100 symptoms that vary by person, including hearing issues.
Managing the torment
Kent Taylor appears to have been one of those “long-haulers,” and among the post-COVID symptoms he experienced was tinnitus.
“Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was,” his family’s statement read in part, “but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable.”
Those who have briefly experienced only mild episodes of tinnitus may not understand the agony of dealing with loud noise in the ear(s) that never stops.
But there are ways to manage the condition to make it less debilitating. From white noise machines to hearing aids, to cognitive behavioral therapy, there are numerous ways to attack the problem. What works for one person won’t necessarily help someone else. But the important thing is not to give up.
“This is one of those things that is tough to manage for some,” Jason Leyendecker, an audiologist and secretary of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, told The Washington Post. But, he added, “if they have hope, if they have an understanding of where it’s coming from and why it bothers them, it can drastically reduce their reaction to it and make it more manageable.”
If you develop tinnitus post-COVID-19 that bothers you, please let us know. Contact our doctors if your tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss, or dizziness, or causing you anxiety or depression.
Meanwhile, if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish.