New research suggests that COVID-19 may exacerbate tinnitus, a common hearing problem, and may even be caused by a new coronavirus. The results of this study highlight the complexity of tinnitus and how intrinsic factors, such as increased anxiety and loneliness, as well as extrinsic factors, such as changes in daily life, can have a significant impact on the condition. The researchers studied more than 3,100 people from 48 countries/regions, most of whom were from the United States and the United Kingdom. They found that 40 percent of people with COVID-19 symptoms had worsening tinnitus. Some participants reported that their tinnitus was initially caused by coronavirus symptoms.
COVID-19 and Tinnitus.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious respiratory disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 that presents many Tinnitus and Stress health problems. Although most people have mild symptoms that are essentially respiratory in nature, some will experience neurological symptoms pulsatile tinnitus, central nervous system manifestations, peripheral nerve manifestations, and skeletal muscle manifestations. However, the devastating effect of the COVID-19 virus on the inner ear hearing organs is a new finding that remains to be explored. Currently, there is little evidence of a direct link between the novel coronavirus and tinnitus. But according to the American Tinnitus Association, pre-existing behavioral conditions make patients more likely to develop tinnitus due to the stress and frustration associated with social isolation and avoidance of infection.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom that begins with a more or less intense ringing, buzzing, hissing, growling, whistling, or ticking sound in one or both ears. If the condition persists for more than three months, it is said to be “chronic tinnitus”. It affects a person’s overall perception of the world and makes life unbearable for the sufferer. In most cases, the tinnitus noise is produced independently of the sound source. In other words, no one else can hear it. Usually, the cause is not an ear disease, but a psychoacoustic phenomenon, in short, a misprocessing of sound signals in the brain.
But what causes tinnitus?
There are as many causes and forms as there are effects. In any case, the patient needs a thorough medical examination, for example by an ENT specialist, a neurologist, an internist, and/or an orthopedic surgeon. Only then can conditions such as Meniere’s disease (an inner ear disease), constriction of the major cervical vessels, wear and tear of the cervical vertebrae of the uterus, jaw joint disease, and a range of internal diseases (e.g. diabetes, abnormal fat metabolism, and hypertension) be ruled out. Tinnitus is usually caused by damage to the inner ear caused by acute noise, blast, or blast trauma. This can cause irreparable damage to the internal and external hair cells of the cochlea. Since the number of tinnitus patients is steadily increasing and every fourth patient complains of a rapid decline in quality of life, it is important to intensify and strengthen research into the causes and new treatments for this disorder.
Why Did COVID-19 Make Tinnitus Worse?
New research suggests that COVID-19 may exacerbate tinnitus, a common hearing problem, and may even be caused by a new coronavirus. The study also found that people with tinnitus are struggling further due to lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic. Tinnitus includes sounds in the ear and head, such as ringing. It is associated with depressed mood, frustration, and anxiety. The results of this study highlight the complexity of tinnitus and how intrinsic factors, such as increased anxiety and loneliness, as well as extrinsic factors, such as changes in daily life, can have a significant impact on the condition. The researchers studied more than 3,100 people from 48 countries/regions, most of whom were from the United States and the United Kingdom. They found that 40 percent of people with COVID-19 symptoms had worsening tinnitus. Some participants reported that their tinnitus was initially caused by coronavirus symptoms.
Tinnitus and Stress.
More and more people are suffering from stress in their daily school, training, or professional life: they are no longer able to learn properly or can only manage their work under enormous psychophysical efforts. What many people do not want to know or admit: stress affects the health of the ear. The release of the stress hormone cortisol causes damage to the auditory system, which can lead to tinnitus. Research projects on the interaction between tinnitus and stress have shown that mitochondrial dysfunction (i.e., dysfunction of cellular “power stations”) leads to energy loss, fatigue and stress, and tinnitus.
No two cases of tinnitus are the same. Therefore, it is important to find the right individual therapy for each patient. The goal of all treatments is to make the patient not feel the painful sound, or at least to make them feel less intense and less disturbed by the sound. Experts talk about “eliminating the bad signals”. However, in the chronic phase, this uncoupling cannot be achieved through pharmacological interventions at this time. What is needed is a holistic approach that requires the continued active participation of the patient, in addition to effective treatment methods. Tinnitus usually has a specific cause (e.g., severe auditory trauma) and it often damages the hair cells of the inner ear. However, at some point in time, tinnitus will act in its own way. Then, the brain no longer succeeds in filtering out the sound information, as it usually does with other insignificant background noise, and thus fails to perceive it. In this way, tinnitus does not “come from the ear”; it occurs in the central, so-called limbic system, the seat of our emotional life, the autonomic nervous system, and the auditory cortex. Thus, even if the auditory nerve has been severed, tinnitus can persist and no sound signal is transmitted from the ear to the brain at all. Therefore, chronic tinnitus cannot simply be “turned off”. However, it has been shown that so-called tinnitus retraining therapy can teach patients to perceive it less intensely. The goal is to habituate the tinnitus and bring it under control in daily life. Fortunately, this method of tinnitus suppression is effective regardless of the possible causes. Tinnitus retraining therapy does not guarantee a cure, but it can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life. One of the factors that contribute to successful treatment is that the patient is no longer a passive patient, but is active in helping their recovery or improving their condition. However, what sounds so simple requires a huge commitment and most importantly, a great deal of understanding and more patience. Typically, tinnitus retraining therapy takes twelve to twenty-four months. In any case, successful treatment is a team effort, requiring interdisciplinary cooperation between physicians, psychologists, physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, and hearing aid practitioners – always with the determined cooperation of the patient. Treatment follows a four-pillar concept. It covers
- Psychological consultation
- Psychological accompaniment
- Relaxation techniques
- If needed: Technical help
The most important pillar of tinnitus retraining therapy is the individual consultation. This service is available to patients throughout the treatment period. They are shown what causes, conditions, and crosstalk can lead to tinnitus and may even lead to increased tinnitus. Only with understanding and knowledge can they reassess their situation, reduce their fears and alleviate their pain, thus paving the way for further measures.
The second pillar is psychological accompaniment. Stress, inner tension, hidden conflicts, relationship problems, and frustration often accompany and sometimes even cause a “vicious cycle” of tinnitus. A discussion with a psychologist can help identify habits that exacerbate stress and develop strategies to overcome them. Group work with other tinnitus sufferers can also be very helpful.
Relaxation techniques and audio therapy.
Relaxation techniques play an integral role in tinnitus retraining therapy. They help relieve stress and make it easier for patients to deal with their situation. Patients improve their ability to cope with the stresses of daily life and improve their quality of life. Ear training makes them sensitive to various noises in the environment. By learning to stop “listening inward” and turn their attention outward, patients begin to feel that annoying sounds are less intense and disturbing.
If needed: Technology helps.
Masking devices can help avoid silence by creating a permanent silence to treat the noise. However, they should never drown out the tinnitus. Tinnitus must remain perceptible if adaptation to habituation is to be successful.