COVID-19 triggers permanent hearing loss

A case of permanent hearing loss linked to COVID-19 infection has been confirmed in a UK patient.

Details of the 45 year old male patient’s condition is reported in BMJ Case Reports today (14 October) by Dr Foteini Koumpa of University College London, UK, and colleagues.

They describe the condition as sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss, and state that normally, the most likely causative factor is a viral infection such as flu, herpes, or cytomegalovirus.

“There are only a few reported cases of hearing loss following COVID-19,” they write, “none of which have been reported in the UK.”

They explain that physical examination and imaging scans ruled out any other cause of hearing loss in this patient, who also has asthma. His COVID-19 symptoms were severe enough to require ventilation in intensive care for 30 days.

Following this he experienced tinnitus and then sudden hearing loss in his left ear, without evidence of blockage or inflammation. Steroid tablets and injections led to partial recovery of his hearing.

“Hearing loss can be a significant cause of morbidity and can easily be missed in the intensive care setting,” they point out. “Being aware and screening for sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss following COVID-19 enables an early course of steroids, which offers the best chance of recovering hearing.

“Given the widespread presence of the virus in the population and the significant morbidity of hearing loss, it is important to investigate this further. This is especially true given the current difficulty in accessing medical services,” they conclude.

* British researchers are to run a clinical trial on the protective effects of vitamin D, it has been announced.

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, will involve 5,000 people over six months and will test the benefits of supplements over the winter.

The journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published an analysis yesterday linked reduced levels of viral transmission in the summer with high levels of ultra-violet light.

Koumpa, F. S. et al. Unusual association: Sudden irreversible hearing loss post COVID-19. BMJ Case Reports 14 October 2020; doi: 10.1136/bcr-2020-238419

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