The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 50 million Americans – about 15% of the population – experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears). About 20 million of these have chronic tinnitus that affects their daily life, and 2 million are debilitated by their tinnitus.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated this symptom for many. Researchers theorize this is likely due to stress triggering episodes, though some hypothesize the virus itself could cause tinnitus as one of its growing list of symptoms.
Stress & Tinnitus
Between concerns about your health, worries about keeping your job and increased attention to current events, this year has caused record stress levels for many across the world. Elevated stress levels are a common trigger for tinnitus.
According to a study published in November in Frontiers in Public Health, 40% of people who had symptoms of COVID-19 reported that their tinnitus worsened. Data was self-reported by more than 3,000 people describing changes to their hearing since the start of the pandemic. Around 250 of participants reported COVID-19 symptoms, though only 26 tested positive for the virus.
“A combination of lifestyle, social and emotional factors during the pandemic” appears to have made tinnitus worse for about one-third of study participants who already had tinnitus before the pandemic, according to the study’s lead author Eldre Beukes, a research fellow at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England.
Tinnitus & COVID-19
In the same study, seven participants said they first noticed the changes in their tinnitus when they developed symptoms of COVID-19, indicating hearing damage may be a symptom of the virus for some.
This is supported by another study published in the International Journal of Audiology in July. This study found that 15% of 138 hospitalized COVID-19 patients reported impaired hearing within eight weeks of being discharged despite no issues before getting sick.
“A lot of viruses do affect the ear, so it is possible that being infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus did cause tinnitus in some people,” said Beukes. “However, people who go through really stressful periods can also develop tinnitus as a result of that stress.”
If you experience changes to your hearing, including tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a doctor right away. Call San Francisco Audiology to learn more.