Coronavirus and hearing loss: Researchers uncover another unusual symptom

  • Researchers examined three patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 before their deaths
  • Two of the three patients were found to have high viral loads in their ears
  • Surgeons are advised to swab patients' ears for SARS-CoV-2 before performing any procedures  

From a dry cough to bluish lips, to a loss of smell and taste, the virus that knows no boundaries has produced yet another unusual symptom, hearing loss.

While it is well known that coronavirus can travel deep in the body and affect your respiratory system, i.e. your nose, throat and lungs, researchers from John Hopkins School of Medicine have found that it can also infect the ear and mastoid bone of the skull, just behind the ear.

The team, therefore, suggests that clinicians examine the ears of people who present with symptoms, and that surgeons swab patients' ears before performing otology procedures (ear surgeries).

Their results were published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.

High viral loads in ears

The researchers looked at three patients who died as a result of Covid-19, two of whom had high SARS-CoV-2 loads in the mastoid (adjacent to the middle ear). They were a man in his 60s and a woman in her 80s.

While the virus was found only in the right middle ear of the woman, the team found the virus in the man’s left and right mastoids, as well as his left and right middle ears.

“This study confirms the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the middle ear and mastoid, ” said lead researcher Dr Katilyn Frazier.

Not the first finding of its kind 

The sample size of the study was very small, but it’s not the first to suggest a link between the virus and ear problems. A study published in April this year found that Covid-19 can result in acute otitis media (a type of ear infection that causes inflammation and infection behind the eardrum).

Another study, also published in April, on asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms) patients who presented with no history of hearing problems, found that their hearing abilities deteriorated once the infection had passed.

Ears of symptomatic people should be screened 

“Identification of live virus from middle ear effusions would have implications for surgeons and staff who handle equipment such as instruments, suction tubing, and suction canisters due to current CDC biosafety recommendations,” the authors wrote.

The findings of the study, therefore, suggest that clinicians screen the ears of people who display Covid-19 symptoms before they perform middle ear procedures. In addition, they recommend additional studies looking into how Covid-19 impacts hearing and the audiovestibular system in general.

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