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Not only smell: an uncommon side effect of the coronavirus

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

In October 2020, the medical journal ‘BMJ Case Reports’ published a case study of a 45-year-old British man who developed tinnitus (ringing) and sudden hearing loss in one ear after becoming seriously ill from covid-19. His hearing partially recovered after receiving steroid treatment.

It is an uncommon side effect of the coronavirus, but the authors of this work consider it important to know about it because early treatment with the aforementioned drugs can reverse this disabling condition.

ENT doctors frequently see cases of sudden hearing loss, with about 5 to 160 cases per 100,000 people each year. The causes are not clear, but they can appear after a viral infection, such as the flu, herpes, or cytomegalovirus.

Not enough data

Despite the large number of published research on sudden hearing loss, only a few associated with covid-19 have been reported, and none more in the UK, so far.

We know that the disease has been linked to many long-term complications, including heart, lung, and neurological disorders. However, an emerging area of research is whether hearing loss and tinnitus may be the result of coronavirus infection, either as a symptom or as complication days or weeks later.

In fact, “it is common for some hearing-related symptoms to present with any upper respiratory tract viral infection,” says Dr. Elias Michaelides, co-director of the Hearing Implants Program and medical director of Audiology and Otolaryngology at Rush University, Chicago. 

This is because the mucous membranes tend to “get very congested” and as a result, “fluid can sometimes collect behind the eardrums,” he explains. This symptom, however, does not cause permanent damage “and often heals on its own” once the infection has passed.

Infections and hearing

We also know that many different types of viral and bacterial infections can cause sudden hearing loss. But older coronaviruses that triggered epidemics, such as SARS and MERS, did not appear to cause this kind of problem. What, then, about SARS-CoV-2, which is causing a global pandemic?

In a work of ‘Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica’ in June 2020, several Iranian patients reported hearing loss in one ear and vertigo. In another study, published in the American Journal of Case Reports, a 67-year-old Egyptian woman with no other coronavirus symptoms developed the same sudden disability and later tested positive for covid.

But beyond these data, science has not collected much research on the matter. What seems to be a bit more common (although still rare) is developing hearing loss or tinnitus as a complication of the infection, which means that it is not part of the onset of symptoms, but rather develops later.

In general, research shows that both problems are not common symptoms of infection; They are also not considered common complications as the disease progresses. However, if you test positive and experience sudden hearing loss, seek immediate medical attention to increase your chances of regaining your hearing.

Autopsy report

Furthermore, autopsy reports, published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, have detected the virus in the bones of the middle ear. And in this case report, a German man experienced profound acute hearing loss after developing pneumonia from the disease.

Perhaps most illuminating so far are the results of a UK survey, which found that nearly 1 in 10 coronavirus patients self-reported hearing loss or tinnitus 8 weeks later. That was surprising, the authors noted, but they also pointed out that hearing loss and tinnitus might be unrelated or indirectly related (such as a side effect of anti-virus drugs).

In other words, more research is vitally needed on the long-term hearing consequences of the coronavirus.

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