Irreversible hearing loss post Covid-19
Now in the second year of the pandemic, sufferers are left with unusual side effects, including permanent hearing loss – three young women tell their stories.
As the pandemic rolls on, more and more long-term effects are being reported. One effect that has not yet been as widely discussed is hearing loss. A new study by the University of Manchester and Manchester Biomedical Research Centre found that 8% of people who become infected with coronavirus experience hearing loss, 14.8% suffer a hearing condition called tinnitus and 7% reported vertigo, a condition which causes dizziness.
Clinical audiologist Mark Williams explains that coronavirus has the ability to invade middle ear cells and “damage hair cells resulting in potential hearing loss.” Another explanation of hearing loss as a result of Covid-19 is that the trauma of being diagnosed with the dreaded illness at the peak of the pandemic can elevate anxiety levels and disturb the auditory processing centre.
We take a look at how this Long Covid symptom is affecting people’s lives.
“I FELT TRAPPED WITH THE SYMPTOMS THAT I WAS FACING”
Hannah, 21, is a third-year University student
I, like many others, was unaware of the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss, until I woke up one day in isolation to the sound of a high-pitched squealing in my ear which is still yet to stop.
My first reaction was panic; I began frantically searching the internet for an instant fix, or reassurance that what I was experiencing was only a short-term effect of Covid-19.
As I desperately scoured the internet, I came across several articles confirming the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss, which sky-rocketed my anxiety, and in turn, elevated the ringing in my ears. However, because Covid-19 and its effects were relatively new, there were very few articles explaining the reasons for this and whether or not it could be cured.
I was only on day five of my isolation and I felt trapped with the symptoms I was facing. I tried to find an escape from my worries about this possible permanent condition by distracting myself with watching the television, however, this only led to me encountering another worrying symptom. As I was watching the same television I have owned for almost half of my life, I noticed that the sound was a lot more bassy than before, so I had to turn the volume down to barely audible. I also could no longer recognise sounds that I’d heard every day of my life, like the birds singing outside, or the sound of my dad’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
This again led me to google my symptoms and find out if anyone else had been experiencing the same thing. It didn’t take long for me to come across a hearing condition known as hyperacusis which listed symptoms that I was becoming all too familiar with.
I decided to contact clinical audiologist Mark Williams to understand what was happening with my hearing. He was very reassuring and explained that while there is a link between Covid-19 and hearing loss, hyperacusis can be treated once anxiety levels are reduced. He said that catastrophic thinking can sustain tinnitus and hyperacusis at a certain level, so once people begin to feel more positive about their symptoms, the symptoms start to ease. He recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Julianne who taught me techniques to reduce anxiety.
Despite still experiencing my symptoms, I do not feel as though I am suffering with them anymore. I have learnt not only how to tune out any negative noises that I may be hearing in my ears, but also any negative emotions that I may be feeling in life - a valuable skill which has enabled me to push through these times when I didn’t think I could.
“IT BEGAN TO AFFECT MY DAY-TO-DAY LIFE”
Lily, 21, is a third-year University student
At first, it was more like a flu. I had a fever; I felt a bit sick and then I started to experience a bit of a sinus infection. I was so bunged up that I didn’t notice that there was a real problem until about a week after Covid had left my body and then I realised that everything was muffled, and I couldn’t hear very well at all.
I just thought that it would go in a few days but then it didn’t for weeks. After speaking to doctors, they didn’t know what it was or how long it would last.
I had to stop going clubbing to prevent further damage to my hearing which meant that my social life took a hit. I then started to miss lectures because I couldn’t hear the lecturers, which made me very stressed. I started to have to really concentrate to listen to people so it really did begin to affect my day-to-day life.
“I’D EQUATE IT TO TORTURE”
Cheryl, 35, writer
I knew something was seriously wrong when during a conversation with my friend, I began experiencing intense pain in my ear. Anybody talking, even in a normal voice, hurts my ear. I couldn’t have any noise on because it hurt so much, I’d equate it to torture.
Mentally and physically, it was devastating. I couldn’t talk on the phone, I had to wear earplugs while my daughter was talking, and I felt so alone.
After speaking to doctors, they told me that I had developed hyperacusis which could be attributed to my recent bout of coronavirus.
Although I still struggle with the symptoms, I have learnt ways to deal with it. I found that singing helps, possibly because it is when I am at my most relaxed.
Tinnitus, hyperacusis and other hearing disorders can be improved when anxiety levels decrease. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is proven to help with anxiety and teach you how to tune out the negative parts of your life – no matter how loud they may be!
Visit the NHS website for further advice.