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Doctors have discovered another puzzling coronavirus symptom

Published Aug 21st, 2020 10:42PM EDT
Coronavirus Symptoms
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  • Researchers discovered another coronavirus symptom that might appear after surviving COVID-19.
  • Some patients who experienced severe cases of COVID-19 complained of hearing loss and ringing in their ears (tinnitus).
  • It’s unclear whether the virus infected the ear directly, impacting hearing, or whether other factors caused the hearing problems.

Just when we thought we knew everything about the way COVID-19 impacts the human body, a new study reveals another puzzling symptom that may affect patients infected with the novel coronavirus. And, like most COVID-19 symptoms, this one wouldn’t be strong enough to allow physicians to diagnose the illness without a test. That’s one of the strengths of this contagion. It lacks any particular signs that would enable physicians and patients to diagnose the disease without a PCR test. What’s worse is that symptoms can take up to two weeks to develop, and some people do not develop any symptoms at all.

Out of all the COVID-19 signs reported so far, there is one that’s pretty telling, and that’s the sudden loss of smell followed by the loss of taste. However, not all infected people experience them. The new symptom that scientists discovered concerns a different sense, as it appears that the virus can impact hearing as well. But unlike the loss of taste and smell, hearing impairments appear after COVID-19 recovery.

British researchers published a study in the International Journal of Audiology last month, explaining that some patients might risk experiencing two different hearing-related issues after COVID-19. Some people reported hearing loss, while others suffered from tinnitus, which is ringing in one’s ears.

The scientists observed 121 adults who went through severe coronavirus symptoms, with 13% of them reporting hearing impairments eight weeks after discharge.

The researches can’t say for certain that the virus infected the ears of these patients, however. The hearing loss and tinnitus can result from other activities, including therapies used for COVID-19.

“We already know that viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss, and coronaviruses can damage the nerves that carry information to and from the brain,” University of Manchester professor of audiology Kevin Munro told Best Life about the study. “It is possible, in theory, that COVID-19 could cause problems with parts of the auditory system, including the middle ear or cochlea.”

The report mentions a different study from JAMA Otolaryngology last month that said the virus was detected in the inner ear. But that’s not enough to prove SARS-CoV-2 induced hearing loss or tinnitus.

Other factors “might include stress and anxiety, including the use of face masks that make communication more difficult, medications used to treat COVID-19 that could damage the ear, or other factors related to being critically ill,” according to Munro.

Some medicines do cause hearing complications, and COVID-19’s most controversial therapy would qualify. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have side effects that include hearing loss and tinnitus, Best Life explains, detailing a documented case from 2018, where a woman manifested those symptoms three years after regular use of hydroxychloroquine. That’s just an example of a medicine that can impact hearing. Hydroxychloroquine use didn’t come up in the British study.

The researchers say that more research is needed to investigate any direct effects of COVID-19 on the ear.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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