LONDON: COVID-19 may lead to hearing loss that could become permanent if not detected and treated early, scientists in the UK have warned.
Experts at University College London, writing in the British Medical Journal, cited the case of a 45-year-old British man who was admitted to intensive care with COVID-19, put on ventilation and given intravenous steroids as well as the antiviral drug remdesivir.
The patient, who is asthmatic, developed tinnitus in his left ear before losing hearing in it altogether a week after leaving the intensive care unit.
Tests revealed sensorineural hearing loss caused by inflammation or damage in the inner ear or nerve responsible for sound, which was later partially treated with steroids.
None of the treatments the man was given had previous links to hearing loss. He had displayed no hearing issues before, or had any damage to his ear canals or ear drums. He also had no other underlying autoimmune issues or conditions linked to hearing loss.
The case is the first to be reported in the UK, but others have been reported in other countries.
“It is possible that the (COVID-19) virus enters inner ear cells and brings about cell death, and / or causes the body to release inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that can be toxic to the inner ear,” said Dr. Stefania Koumpa, co-author of the study.
“Steroids likely help by reducing inflammation and therefore production of cytokines. Even single-sided hearing loss has great consequences on one’s quality of life, if not promptly treated.”
Kevin Munro, professor of audiology at the University of Manchester (UoM), told The Guardian newspaper that he had been contacted by COVID-19 patients reporting similar symptoms.
He said in a survey conducted by a team at the UoM, 16 of 121 patients with COVID-19 reported hearing issues within two months of leaving hospital. “I think there’s likely to be lots of explanations for why people were reporting problems,” he added.