Researchers have reported the first UK case in which a patient experienced a sudden permanent hearing loss due to COVID-19 infection, suggesting that some people may have this type of complications from the new coronavirus.
The case study was published in the journal BMJ (British Medical Journal) Case Reports.
The researchers emphasized that knowing about this possible side effect is important, as it will help clinicians to start a course of steroid treatment, which can reverse the disabling complication.
ENT specialists often come across many cases of sudden hearing loss and it is unclear what the causes are, but it may be complications of a viral infection, such as herpes, flu, or cytomegalovirus.
So far, only a handful of hearing loss cases linked to COVID-19 have been reported.
The case study researchers describe a case of a 45-year-old man with asthma who was referred to the ENT specialist after suddenly experiencing hearing loss in one ear while undergoing treatment for COVID-19 infection.
He was hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms that he had been suffering for 10 days. He was later shifted to ICU because he was struggling to breathe. He required mechanical ventilation for 30 days and developed other complications.
The man was treated with remdesivir, injectable steroids, and a blood transfusion. He started getting better. However, a week after the breathing tube was removed, he experienced ringing in his left ear, medically called tinnitus, followed by sudden hearing loss in that ear.
Upon examination, his left ear had no blockages or inflammation, but a hearing test showed he had “substantially lost his hearing in the left ear.” His hearing partially recovered after receiving oral and injectable steroids.
The study authors wrote, “Despite the considerable literature on COVID-19 and the various symptoms associated with the virus, there is a lack of discussion on the relationship between COVID-19 and hearing.”
“Hearing loss and tinnitus are symptoms that have been seen in patients with both COVID-19 and influenza virus, but have not been highlighted,” they added.
The novel coronavirus is thought to affect a particular type of cell lining the lungs, which are similar to the middle ear, according to the authors.
COVID-19 also causes an inflammatory response and increases the chemicals that are associated with hearing loss.
“This is the first reported case of sensorineural hearing loss following COVID-19 infection in the UK,” the authors wrote. “Given the widespread presence of the virus in the population and the significant morbidity of hearing loss, it is important to investigate this further.”
“This is especially true given the need to promptly identify and treat the hearing loss and the current difficulty in accessing medical services,” they added. Citing the findings of this case, the researchers advise clinicians to ask patients in ICU about hearing loss and refer them to ENT specialist for further assessment.