Covid-19 Could Lead To ‘Sudden’ Permanent Deafness

Topline

Doctors warn that coronavirus could cause permanent deafness after a patient lost hearing in one ear following hospital treatment for Covid-19, calling on doctors to ask patients in intensive care about hearing loss. 

Key Facts

A 45-year old man with asthma was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms, doctors report in the BMJ.

He spent 30 days in the ICU on a ventilator after difficulties breathing, where he was treated with remdesivir, an antiviral drug, intravenous steroids and plasma exchange.

A week after he left the hospital, the man noticed a ringing in his left ear — also known as tinnitus — which quickly deteriorated into full hearing loss.    

The man had no previous history of hearing loss or ear problems, and tests revealed no blockages or inflammation that could have caused the problem.

His hearing was partially restored thanks to prompt treatment with steroid tablets and injections.

The researchers urged doctors treating patients with Covid-19 to be vigilant for signs of hearing loss, as it can be permanent if not treated quickly. 

Key Background

Sudden hearing loss is known to follow viral infections like flu, herpes, or cytomegalovirus, but has only been documented in a small number of Covid-19 cases so far. The researchers describe sudden loss as a “relatively common” phenomenon, with studies putting worldwide figures between 5 and 160 people per 100,000 people every year.    

What We Don’t Know

It isn’t known how rare this kind of hearing loss is or how many it may affect. To date, it does not look like many and it may remain a rare phenomenon. That said, hearing loss can be hard to notice in a hospital environment, as the researchers point out, and it may also go unnoticed for a while, leading to delays in detection or treatment. Many Covid-19 cases are also asymptomatic, or with mild symptoms, potentially obscuring other cases.    

Further Reading

Sudden irreversible hearing loss post COVID-19, FREE (BMJ)

Covid-19 could make sufferers permanently deaf, scientists warn (Telegraph)

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