Tinnitus, a common hearing problem, may be worsened by COVID-19 or possibly even triggered by the new coronavirus, new research indicates.
Moreover, people with tinnitus are further struggling because of lifestyle changes forced by the pandemic, the study found.
Tinnitus includes the perception of noise, like ringing, in the ears and head. It’s associated with reduced emotional well-being, depression and anxiety.
“The findings of this study highlight the complexities associated with experiencing tinnitus and how both internal factors, such as increased anxiety and feelings of loneliness, and external factors, such as changes to daily routines, can have a significant effect on the condition,” study author Eldre Beukes said in a news release from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England.
Beukes is a research fellow at Anglia Ruskin and Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
The researchers studied more than 3,100 people from 48 countries, most from the United States and United Kingdom. They found that 40% of those who had COVID-19 symptoms experienced a worsening of their existing tinnitus.
Some participants reported their tinnitus was initially triggered by developing coronavirus symptoms.
This could mean that tinnitus could be a “long COVID” symptom for some, the study said.
Researchers also learned that many respondents believe social distancing measures are worsening their condition. About 46% from the United Kingdom and 29% in North America reported this.
They blamed increased video calls, noisier home environments and greater consumption of coffee and alcohol for their increasing discomfort.
About one-third also cited fear of getting COVID-19, financial concerns, loneliness and trouble sleeping as contributors. Women and people under age 50 found their tinnitus particularly problematic during the pandemic.
The pandemic has also made it more difficult for patients to access health care support for their condition, according to the study.
The findings were published this week in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.
“Poor treatment of tinnitus in the early stages often leads to much worse cases, and severe tinnitus can have a huge impact on mental health,” said study co-author David Stockdale, chief executive of the British Tinnitus Association.
“With this in mind, as the COVID-19 second wave takes hold, the health care system needs to ensure that anyone who develops tinnitus or experiences a worsening of their condition can access the professional health care support they need as quickly as possible,” he said in the release.
Learn more about tinnitus from the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
SOURCE: Anglia Ruskin University, news release, Nov. 5, 2020
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