Tinnitus: Exacerbated by COVID-19

New findings indicate that tinnitus is exacerbated by COVID-19. As if the COVID-19 virus hasn’t done enough damage, it now appears to exacerbating the effects of Tinnitus, according to the Angela Ruskin University (ARU) website. As a reminder, Tinnitus is is the perception of a sound that has no external source. Common sounds include ringing, humming, buzzing, or cricket-like. It can be constant or intermittent and is heard in one ear, both ears, or in the head. It’s uncomfortable, a nuisance, and has no cure (yet).

A study led by the ARU, with support from the British Tinnitus Association and the American Tinnitus Association, studied 3,103 people with tinnitus from 48 different countries, with the majority coming from the UK and the US. Research found that 40% of those displaying COVID-19 symptoms simultaneously experience a worsening of their tinnitus. It is important to note, though the study was centered on people with pre-existing tinnitus, it was found that a small number of participants reported their tinnitus was triggered by developing COVID-19 symptoms, which suggests that tinnitus could be a “long COVID-19” symptom, in certain cases.

The study also found that a large number of people believe their tinnitus is worsening due to social distancing measures, as they have led to significant changes in work and lifestyle routines. 46% of respondents in the UK and 29% of respondents in the US say that lifestyle changes have impacted their tinnitus. It was found that internal stressors, like fear of catching COVID-19, financial worries, loneliness, and trouble sleeping has made tinnitus more of a problem for 32% of respondents. External factors like increased video calls, noisier home environments, home-schooling, and increased coffee and alcohol consumption were also cited by respondents as a potential reason for the worsening of their tinnitus.

Worse yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for people to access healthcare support for tinnitus, which can further increase emotional distress leading to a worsening of tinnitus symptoms. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s clear, tinnitus is exacerbated by COVID-19.

Lead author Dr Eldre Beukes, a Research Fellow at ARU and Lamar University in Texas, said: “The findings of this study highlight the complexities associated with experiencing tinnitus and how both internal factors, such as increased anxiety and feelings of loneliness, and external factors, such as changes to daily routines, can have a significant effect on the condition.

“Some of the changes brought about by COVID-19 appear to have had a negative impact on the lives of people with tinnitus and participants in this study reported that COVID-19 symptoms are worsening or, in some cases, even initiating tinnitus and hearing loss. This is something that needs to be closely examined by both clinical and support services.”

David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the British Tinnitus Association and a co-author of the study, said:“With the second wave of COVID-19 and the resulting national lockdown likely to increase feelings of stress and isolation, it’s vital that we don’t see the same mistakes as before when it comes to community health provision for people with tinnitus.

“Poor treatment of tinnitus in the early stages often leads to much worse cases and severe tinnitus can have a huge impact on mental health. With this in mind, as the COVID-19 second wave takes hold, the healthcare system needs to ensure that anyone who develops tinnitus or experiences a worsening of their condition can access the professional healthcare support they need as quickly as possible.”

Original Paper: Beukes EW, Baguley DM, Jacquemin L, et al. Changes in tinnitus experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Public Health. 2020;8. DOI=10.3389/fpubh.2020.592878.

Source: ARU, Frontiers in Public Health

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