COVID-19 does not affect auditory system or cause permanent hearing loss, new study suggests
Researchers studied the activity of the hair cells in the ear and the electrical activity in the brainstem starting from the ear until it is perceived by the brain
The novel coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets and enters the body through mucosal linings, present in a person’s oral and nasal cavities. The virus affects both the sense of smell and taste, often in the initial stages of the infection. Since earlier this year, there have also been a few clinical reports suggesting hearing loss or ear damage due to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
In April, a female patient with COVID-19 was reported to have hearing loss after she got the infection. This was the first-ever case of hearing loss associated with COVID-19 . Researchers had speculated that the virus damages the brain stem as well as the temporal lobe (the area of the brain that controls hearing). Other reasons like damage to cochlear hair cells (fine hair that help perceive sound) have also been proposed.
Now, new research done by scientists at the Tel Aviv University, Israel, states that the novel coronavirus does not cause permanent hearing loss. The findings of the study are published in the journal Otology and Neurology.
Permanent or temporary damage
In a news release by Tel Aviv University, the authors of the study said that temporary clogging of the middle ear often happens in the common cold. The new research was conducted to assess if the hearing loss being associated with COVID-19 is permanent damage to the auditory system or temporary ear clogging.
About eight asymptomatic COVID-19 patients were included in the study along with eight healthy volunteers as controls. None of the volunteers had a history of hearing problems and all had a normal audiogram (test to check for hearing loss).
The researchers studied the activity of the hair cells in the ear and the electrical activity in the brainstem starting from the ear until it is perceived by the brain.
No effect on the auditory system
None of the participants showed any damage to the auditory system. The study's authors suggest that any hearing loss may be temporary in coronavirus patients and may occur due to build-up of fluids in the middle ear.
A case study done in the UK had reported sudden permanent hearing loss in a 45-year-old coronavirus patient. However, the researchers were not certain if it has occurred due to SARS-CoV-2 infection itself or inflammation that occurred due to the infection.
For the recent study, the researchers had started taking in volunteers in April, during the first wave of the pandemic in Israel. To better understand the effects of COVID-19 on hearing capacity, scientists at Tel Aviv University are now planning to conduct a bigger study with more than a hundred volunteers including severely-ill coronavirus patients and those on ventilators.
For more information, read our article on COVID-19.
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