While it is not a common symptom, sudden permanent hearing loss appears to be linked to COVID-19 in some patients, doctors are warning.
The first UK case of sudden permanent hearing loss was reported in the journal BMJ Case Reports, and doctors are saying that awareness of this possible side effect is particularly important as a swift course of steroid treatment can reverse the condition.
Sudden hearing loss is frequently seen by ear, nose and throat specialists, with around five to 160 cases per 100,000 people reported every year. It’s not clear what the causes are, but the condition can follow a viral infection, such as flu, herpes, or cytomegalovirus.
Until now, there had been little by way of published research on the link, with only a handful of other cases linked to COVID-19 reported, and none in the UK until recently.
According to the report, the patient is described as a 45-year-old man who suddenly experienced hearing loss in one ear while being treated for the coronavirus as an inpatient. He needed intensive care and was on a ventilator for 30 days, but had started to recover until he reported tinnitus (a ringing in the ear) followed by sudden hearing loss in his left ear.
He had no previous hearing problems and had no blockages or inflammation in his ear canal, and he tested negative for any other potential causes. He was treated with steroid tablets and injections after which his hearing partially recovered.
He tested negative for other potential causes, including rheumatoid arthritis, flu and HIV, prompting his doctors to conclude that his hearing loss was associated with COVID-19 infection.
SARS-CoV-2 also generates an inflammatory response and an increase in the chemicals that have been linked to hearing loss.
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