As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people around the world, doctors and researchers are looking at how the virus is linked to other health issues. For example, some COVID-19 cases have led to other health concerns such as poor cardiovascular health, lung damage, loss of smell, or even depression. COVID-19 has also been linked to sudden onset hearing loss. One recent study, published in November 2020, found that COVID-19 can exacerbate tinnitus.
Ringing in the Ears
Have you noticed a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears? You can only hear this sound when you’re in a quiet place, and it often keeps you awake at night. The annoying hissing or whooshing sound you’re hearing is known as tinnitus. It’s all in your head, but you’re not going crazy. No one else can hear this sound but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Tinnitus happens when damaged cells in the ear send signals to the brain even when there are no sounds around you. Your brain interprets these signals as sound, and you hear the ringing noise.
COVID-19 and Tinnitus
A recent study looked at how COVID-19 is connected to tinnitus. Researchers from around the world, including the US, UK, Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands, asked people with tinnitus to fill out an online survey. They got survey responses from 3,103 people in 48 different countries. Most of the participants had tinnitus before they got sick, but 7 people reported noticing tinnitus only after they had COVID-19.
In 40% of responses, COVID-19 symptoms made tinnitus worse or more noticeable. Meanwhile, 54% said COVID-19 didn’t affect their tinnitus at all, and 6% said their tinnitus had slightly improved.
Why Did COVID-19 Make Tinnitus Worse?
The COVID-19 virus has been linked to hearing loss and tinnitus. Some people have reported developing sudden hearing loss after becoming ill. It’s not very common, but doctors do recognize hearing loss as a possible outcome in the weeks that follow a COVID-19 infection. This virus may affect the cells in the inner or middle ear, leading to hearing loss or tinnitus. However, researchers don’t know exactly how COVID-19 makes tinnitus worse.
Tinnitus and Stress
One thing we do know a lot about is the close connection between tinnitus and stress. Many of the survey participants who experienced worse tinnitus when they got sick also reported having more stress in their life. For example, some participants were self-isolating on their own, experiencing loneliness, sleeping poorly, and not getting enough exercise. They also reported feeling more anxious, irritable, and worried during this time, including having higher levels of financial stress. In fact, 32% of participants reported some of these additional stressors.
Stress and tinnitus are closely linked. For example, when you feel more stressed, you’ll experience more tinnitus. And the tinnitus makes you even more stressed, which can make your tinnitus even worse! All the added stress that came with being sick could explain part of the increase in tinnitus symptoms.
What This Means for You
As rising rates of COVID-19 continue to affect the US, this study emphasizes something important for those with tinnitus. “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,” says study author Eldre Beukes.
Whether or not you’ve experienced COVID-19 symptoms, the pandemic could be making your tinnitus worse. For example, having the kids home from school leads to lots more background noise. And more video calls and that extra cup of coffee can increase stress and make tinnitus seem worse.
Have you noticed an onset of tinnitus? Maybe recent lifestyle changes or an illness made your tinnitus worse. We’re committed to helping you manage stress and tinnitus. Many of our hearing aids have tinnitus therapy programs that will help you cope with tinnitus. These programs use sound therapy to mask tinnitus. Your tinnitus can fade into the background, bringing you relief so you can go on with your day. Contact us today to learn more about tinnitus management options!