Fever. Dry cough. Tiredness. Loss of taste and smell. By now we’re all familiar with the symptoms and immediate effects of COVID-19. Now that we’re more than a year into the pandemic, though, scholars and clinicians are beginning to see and understand some of the long-term effects of the disease. One effect that some patients have experienced is tinnitus.
Tinnitus is the brain’s perception of spontaneous electrical activity along the hearing nerve. Tinnitus is not a real sound; that is, it does not have an external vibrational source. Tinnitus is frequently described as a ringing, humming, buzzing, or cricket-like chirping quality. An estimated 50 million Americans experience some degree of tinnitus, many of whom (though not all) have underlying hearing loss or hidden hearing loss. Tinnitus is routinely reported in literature as a weak signal that can often be masked by ambient sounds, so that it is most noticeable in an otherwise quiet setting.
For many people, tinnitus is a fairly minor nuisance. However, it is not uncommon for individuals with tinnitus to experience acute or chronic symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety, anger, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“In cases of bothersome tinnitus, your mind mistakes the harmless spontaneous nerve activity (tinnitus) as an imminent threat and invokes a sort of fear response in the mind and body, the effects of which can interfere with normal daily activity or sleep, or produce unwanted thoughts or feelings,” Dr. Ellis said.
For your continued health and wellbeing, it is important to be forthcoming about the functional or emotional impacts of your tinnitus to your audiologist, ENT, primary care or mental health providers. There is no shame in asking for help, and for the 1 in 4 people with tinnitus whose lives are significantly impacted, there are solutions readily available to manage the mind-body response to tinnitus.
Recent studies have shown that 7-15% of people who had COVID later reported experiencing some sort of hearing-related issue, tinnitus being the most commonly reported.
That said, it is not yet known why or how COVID-19 causes tinnitus. Some hearing scientists believe the virus attacks the auditory system much like other infectious diseases, such as meningitis or measles, while others postulate that the chronic stressors and forced modifications of daily life (i.e., loss of sleep, health anxiety, and drastic changes in diet, exercise, social schedules, and work routines) amid the COVID pandemic bring about or exacerbate tinnitus, making the symptom seem more intense and invasive.
While there is no cure or effective “off switch” for tinnitus, there are several ways to manage the symptom and your mind/body's response to it. Engaging in mindfulness practice, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy, physician-approved diet, exercise, and good sleep regimens will likely reduce the severity of tinnitus annoyance.
Therapeutic sound delivered by a tabletop noise machine can also alleviate symptoms and reduce the severity of the mind/body’s response. Hearing aids are recommended in most cases where hearing loss is detected. These devices are programmed by the audiologist with built-in, nature-based sound generators to provide soothing low-level sounds, like the sound of rainfall, for situations when tinnitus is likely to be most bothersome.
For further discussion of your tinnitus and management strategies, request a consultation referral to see a CEENTA tinnitus specialist in SouthPark, Belmont, Fort Mill, or Rock Hill. Whether it’s caused by COVID-19 or not, we’re here to help.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. To schedule an appointment with a CEENTA audiologist, call 704-295-3000.
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