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YOUR HEALTH: Is hearing impacted by COVID-19?

New research has mixed results when it comes to one of COVID-19's possible side effects

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic and medical experts have learned a lot about its devastating and lingering effects, but there are still unanswered questions.  

COVID-19 patients on the mend are struggling with everything from cardiovascular problems to clotting disorders, stroke, and fatigue. 

Now, in rare cases, medical experts say hearing loss is being added to the list. 

"I had thought I was sleeping for two years," COVID-19 patient Michael Goldsmith explained.

Michael had clots in his leg, lost function in his shoulders and arms, and had what he describes as "static" in his ears, profound hearing loss.

"I can hear a little bit; it sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher is how I always describe it, you know? You can't make out any words."

Dr. Laurie Jacobs, the co-director of the specialized COVID-19 recovery unit at Hackensack University Medical Center, wanted answers.

"I've seen very few patients, if any, complain of hearing loss, but we don't know everything about this yet," she said.

Since mid-2020, a handful of cases of hearing loss have been reported worldwide, according to the International Journal of Audiology

Doctors in the Great Britain say it's possible the virus enters inner ear cells and causes cell death. 

Dr. Jacobs says it's possible covid-related hearing loss is being overlooked or underreported.

"It may be that people don't attribute it to COVID. Everything is on the table."

Michael Goldsmith is working hard to get healthy. 

He wore a temporary device to help him hear, then had cochlear implant surgery in September and has since regained about 50% of his hearing. 

It may take up to a year after implant surgery for his hearing to be full strength.

"You're here now and that's all you have to worry about and move on from there."

Conflicting research

A study out of Tel Aviv University (TAU), in collaboration with the Galilee Medical Center, did not link damage to the auditory system as a result of COVID-19 infection. 

The question remains as to whether it is a temporary symptom caused by fluids clogging the middle ear, as often happens with a common cold. 

The study included eight asymptomatic individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19 and eight healthy volunteers who served as a control group, none of whom reported any previous hearing loss. 

"Our study explored whether COVID-19 can cause permanent neural or sensory damage to the hearing system. We found no evidence for such damage," says co-author Dr. Amiel Dror of the Galilee Medical Center and the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine at Bar-Ilan University. 

The researchers are currently conducting a much more comprehensive study with hundreds of patients, including persons who had been severely ill and even ventilated. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.