By Reina Josslyn
Tinnitus is an audiological disorder characterized by hearing noises in one's ear that aren't caused by any external factors. It's a common condition in the US, with roughly 10% of the adult population having experienced it. That amounts to around 25 million Americans. The condition has recently raised concern among experts because more and more patients suffering from COVID-19 reported that their tinnitus was worsening. Others even believe that their tinnitus was brought about by their COVID-19 symptoms.
The potential link between COVID-19 and tinnitus has already been covered in a blog post here on EarPeace. As previously stated, individuals can potentially develop tinnitus when they experience stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Due to the psychological consequences brought about by the pandemic, experts have reason to believe that tinnitus could stem from the effects of COVID-19. Recent studies on the topic elucidate this connection further.
A study by Beukes et al. surveyed 3,103 people, majority of whom have existing tinnitus conditions. Seven respondents claimed that they had just developed tinnitus and that this was caused by COVID-19, suggesting that it could be a symptom of long bout of the disease. Meanwhile, 40% of the respondents reported that their COVID-19 symptoms worsened their existing tinnitus condition, and 32% believed that the social and emotional consequences of the pandemic further exacerbated it. Such consequences include self-isolation, loneliness, poor sleep habits, and decreased levels of exercise. Additionally, depression, anxiety, irritability, and financial worries also contributed to the respondents' worsening tinnitus.
There are many other studies concerning the link between COVID-19 and tinnitus. These have been compiled in a systematic review of available data concerning COVID-19 and audio-vestibular symptoms by Almufarrij & Munro. The review found that around 14.8% of patients experienced tinnitus after having contracted COVID-19. However, the researchers caution that this could be an overestimate, given that the data they gathered from the studies did not always report a change in symptoms. Moreover, many of the studies were based on existing medical records or questionnaires, wherein patients reported their symptoms instead of undergoing the appropriate diagnostic tests.
Managing COVID-19 and Tinnitus
While there is still no irrefutable evidence that tinnitus is worsened by COVID-19 or that it is a long COVID symptom, medical professionals cannot ignore the growing body of research pointing to a potential connection. That said, healthcare workers should be mindful of any signs of tinnitus in their patients.
Nurses, in particular, must keep a close eye on COVID-19 patients and monitor their symptoms as they are typically the first respondents and primary caregivers in COVID-19 wards. Otolaryngology or ENT nurses are in the best position to do this. As nursing specialists with a BSN qualification and a relevant postgraduate degree, ENT nurses specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose, and/or throat problems in patients. This means they're equipped to attend to patients experiencing tinnitus with their COVID-19 symptoms. In the same vein, ENT doctors are also necessary to further provide patient assistance. They can prescribe treatments on how to manage tinnitus and provide medical or surgical care, if need be.
However, otolaryngology professionals face a considerably high risk of COVID-19 transmission themselves due to how closely they work with patients' upper aerodigestive tracts. That said, they should follow appropriate safety measures to prevent virus transmission. This is especially the case should a patient require an examination, surgery, or any other ENT-related procedures.
There is a growing body of research that seems to point to a connection between COVID-19 and tinnitus. Despite the lack of conclusive findings, one must still be wary of the symptoms of both. Make sure to follow health and safety precautions to protect against both these conditions, even if you're already vaccinated. After all, prevention is the best treatment.
Specially written for EARPEACE.com
By: Reina Josslyn