Covid-19: Sudden hearing loss, while rare, occurs in some patients - and needs to be caught early

  • A UK journal published a study on the first case of sudden hearing loss tied to Covid-19 
  • The patient was intubated and admitted to the ICU due to the severity of the infection
  • After being extubated, the patient noticed changes in his left ear

The first case of sudden hearing loss due to Covid-19 infection was reported in the United Kingdom and doctors are urging people to become aware of the symptom because prompt treatment could completely or at least partially reverse it.

While the report states that the condition is uncommon, doctors warned that if the condition remains undetected, and subsequently untreated, the damage is likely to be irreversible.

The case study was published in BMJ Case Reports and details how a 45-year-old patient, who suffers from asthma, was admitted to hospital following 10 days of Covid-19 symptoms. 

Admitted to ICU

In hospital, the patient needed to be intubated and was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU).

He remained intubated for 30 days and his stay in hospital was further complicated because of a number of other conditions, including pneumonia and anaemia. After going through several courses of medication, including remdesivir, intravenous steroids and plasma exchange (to treat Covid-19), he was extubated and transferred out of the ICU.

A week after leaving the ICU, the patient noticed a ringing in his left ear and a sudden loss of hearing. The patient was officially diagnosed with sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL).

READ | Comorbidities and Covid-19: How pre-existing conditions significantly increase risk of death

Series of tests 

The patient was taken to the hospital's otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) department.

Specialists conducted a series of tests, including an HIV test, along with an assessment of the medication he received while being treated for Covid-19.

After examining his ears, results showed that there was no inflammation or blockages, and that his eardrum was intact. But tests still showed that the patient had lost hearing.

READ | Covid-19: Does age matter? Not with your likelihood of being infected – study

The rare conclusion: Association to Covid-19 

All other tests came back negative, leading to the conclusion that it was Covid-19 which caused the patient's hearing loss.

He was treated with steroids and injections, which partially restored his hearing.

In the study, the authors state that even though there is "considerable literature on Covid-19 and the various symptoms associated with the virus, there is a lack of discussion on the relationship between Covid-19 and hearing. Hearing loss and tinnitus are symptoms that have been seen in patients with both Covid-19 and influenza virus, but have not been highlighted".

They add that although there have been only a few cases of reported hearing loss, it is still "significant to consider the possibility of a relationship between Covid-19 and SSNHL".

READ | Case study on Covid reinfection: While rare, it's possible that symptoms may be more severe second time around

Image credit: Irwan Iwe, Unsplash

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