Hearing and Lingering COVID

Many of our patients are looking for some sense of long-term impact of COVID, asking themselves how long do COVID symptoms last? And although broad in nature, for the overwhelming majority of us who will get COVID, most will overcome the symptoms of the illness within several days.

However, Long-haul COVID is a condition that has slowly become more recognized by both the medical profession and the public at large. It covers a wide range of symptoms that people who recovered from bouts of COVID-19—even mild cases—found themselves dealing with for months on end.

The most serious of these are extreme fatigue and problems breathing, degraded brain function, and heart inflammation that can be a serious threat for cardiac arrest (this last has included some world-class athletes).

A few symptoms related to hearing have also been reported, especially tinnitus, which is a constant high-end ringing sound. A few cases of sudden, direct hearing loss have cropped up and bouts of vertigo are another area of concern.

Tinnitus is not only the most commonly reported hearing-related side effect of COVID, but also the area that has received the most study. A recent report in Frontiers in Public Health entitled “Changes in Tinnitus Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic” followed the experience of over 3,000 people who had tinnitus and then came down with COVID. It found the about 40 percent of them reported that their condition worsened. For some it was a brief experience, for others it extended much longer.

Given that—though it’s hard to believe—COVID-19 has only been with us for less than two years, continuing the monitor patients is the only path forward in order to learn more about the long-term impact.

As the report states: “Those who have had COVID-19 should be monitored for changes in hearing-related problems, such as initiation or worsening of tinnitus. There is most likely also a cohort of patients who experienced an onset of tinnitus during this period and who will need access to clinical care for their tinnitus.”

The good news is that some COVID long haulers have found that their symptoms have lessened once they were fully vaccinated.