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Hospital patient suffers hearing loss after COVID-19 diagnosis

Written by on 14 October 2020

A man from the UK had sudden hearing loss after testing positive for COVID-19, a medical journal has reported.

The 45-year-old man who suffered from asthma but was described as “fit and well” was admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) after contracting COVID-19.

However, after a long period of time in the ICU, it was found that he had developed hearing problems.

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Inside Warrington hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care unit

Although this is the first report of coronavirus-linked hearing loss in the UK, it is not the first in the world.

The British man’s hearing loss, known as sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), was detailed in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

The man was admitted to hospital 10 days after the onset of coronavirus symptoms and required intubation at an ICU for 30 days.

He also suffered from high blood pressure, ventilator-associated pneumonia, anaemia and a blood clot.

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A week after he left the ICU, he had noticed SSNHL and left-sided tinnitus, despite having no history of hearing loss or ear problems.

He was seen by ear, nose and throat specialists a week later and was treated with oral steroids for seven days, which reportedly resulted in a partial subjective improvement in his condition.

A small amount of steroid was also injected directly into his ear, but this did not help clear his hearing loss.

“Hearing loss and tinnitus are symptoms that have been seen in patients with both Covid-19 and influenza virus but have not been highlighted,” the authors wrote.

“In the case presented here, the patient was previously well with no other attributable cause for his SSNHL.

“Furthermore, it must be noted that the patient mentioned the difficulty acknowledging the hearing loss in the busy ITU environment and his realisation afterwards.

“Despite the low numbers of studies, it is significant to consider the possibility of a relationship between Covid-19 and SSNHL.”

They added: “This is the first reported case of sensorineural hearing loss following COVID-19 infection in the UK.

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“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 need to promptly identify and treat the hearing loss and the current difficulty in accessing medical services.

“We suggest that patients are asked about hearing loss in the ITU environments when applicable, and any patient reporting acute hearing loss should be referred to otolaryngology on an emergency basis.”

Sudden hearing loss can “easily be missed in an intensive care setting”, according to experts from University College London and the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital, who have called for medics to be aware of the complication.

By raising awareness, medics would be able to offer an early course of steroids, which would in turn give the best chance of recovery.