The relationship between Covid-19 and hearing health has become the focus of an increasing number of research studies.
While some researchers are looking at the disproportionate impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on people with hearing issues, others are investigating the possibility that Covid-19 might itself cause hearing loss or tinnitus.
Here at Audientes, we want to keep you up to date about the most compelling studies that are emerging, and to let you know about the changes that are taking place in the hearing healthcare sector as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We also want to share some information about how Audientes is in a strong position to help those with hearing loss and tinnitus during this crisis.
It has long been known that the hard of hearing are at high risk for social isolation, depression, and anxiety, severely impacting their quality of life.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation.
Mask mandates and social distancing requirements, in particular, have made it hard for those with hearing loss to communicate.
Mask wearing, for instance, can make conversation difficult for those with hearing loss, given that they often rely on facial expression and lip-reading to understand what is being said.
“We don’t recognize how much we might utilize mouth movements… to understand what somebody is saying or help us fill in the blanks when we miss some information,” says Angela Shoup, Vice-chair of the National Academy of Practice in Audiology.
According to Shoup, many hearing loss sufferers first identified their hearing difficulties during the pandemic after they found themselves unable to make out what their friends, loved ones and caregivers were saying.
The problem is especially severe in health care settings. A recent study concludes that, because they muffle audio, face masks, and especially the N95 masks commonly used in health care settings, “render speech close to unintelligible for many patients with hearing loss.”
Social distancing only adds to the problem, as sound does not carry as well across distances—and even when masks are optional, many are unable to see clearly enough to lip read.
The overall message is clear: those with hearing loss are at a particular disadvantage because of the pandemic, and it is vital that they receive top-quality, compassionate treatment.
A causal link?
Beyond the issues facing those with pre-existing hearing conditions, there is growing concern that Covid-19 itself may be contributing to hearing problems.
“I’ve received about 100 emails… saying my doctor thought I was crazy when I mentioned tinnitus [after a Covid-19 diagnosis] and now I know I’m not the only one,” says Kevin Munro, a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester.
Munro is the co-author of a recent study examining the impact of Covid-19 on hearing health. According to the study’s findings, among adults who had Covid-19, one in twelve experienced hearing loss—and about one in six suffered from tinnitus.
Another study, focusing on those with pre-existent tinnitus, discovered that Covid-19 symptoms “exacerbated tinnitus in 40% of respondents”.
Other data points also suggest a connection.
Tinnitus-related web searches have skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic. Between February 2020 and February 2021, searches for “tinnitus” and “tinnitus causes” rose 83% and 50%, respectively.
Over roughly the same period, the British Tinnitus Association saw a dramatic rise in interest, with a 256% increase in the number of people accessing its internet helpline.
Medications prescribed as Covid-19 treatments may also be affecting hearing health. Many, including remdesivir, azithromycin, and chloroquine, are known to be potentially ototoxic (damaging to the ear).
Still, scientists say that more research is required before a conclusive connection can be drawn. “More work needs to be done,” cautions Munro, who is currently leading a year-long study on hearing loss and Covid in the UK.
“It is unclear if changes to hearing are directly attributed to Covid-19 or to other factors, such as treatments to deliver urgent care,” he adds.
Changes in hearing healthcare
In spite of increasing hearing loss prevalence, hearing aid sales declined dramatically in 2020—a drop that most experts attribute to the pandemic.
In the United States, sales fell by 18%, and, while worldwide sales figures have yet to be released, they are expected to be disappointing.
“The entire hearing care ecosystem is suffering severely,” says Søren Nielsen, former president of the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association.
The causes of the decline in sales are likely to be twofold.
First, many feel unsafe visiting hospitals and clinics because of the threat of contracting Covid-19.
Second, many are facing increased financial instability because of the crisis, making them reluctant to purchase hearing aids, which typically cost thousands of dollars per ear.
Audientes’ mission has always been to make affordable, high-quality hearing aids accessible to everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the urgency of that mission.
Our state-of-the-art hearing aids deliver best-in-class performance for considerably less than the cost of competing devices.
Those who are concerned about the safety of visiting hearing health clinics or hospitals during the pandemic will be pleased to learn that Audientes’ hearing aids can be purchased online, and are, moreover, completely self-fitting. That means that they can be configured in the comfort of your own home.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to alter the healthcare landscape, and hearing healthcare is no exception. At Audientes, we’re proud to offer a device that we believe can safely and inexpensively alleviate people’s suffering during this unprecedented crisis.References
 Ibrahim Almufarrij & Kevin J. Munro (2021) One year on: an updated systematic review of SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and audio-vestibular symptoms, International Journal of Audiology, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14992027.2021.1896793
 Beukes EW, Baguley DM, Jacquemin L, Lourenco MPCG, Allen PM, Onozuka J, Stockdale D, Kaldo V, Andersson G and Manchaiah V (2020) Changes in Tinnitus Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Front. Public Health 8:592878. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.592878
 Ciorba A, Corazzi V, Skarżyński PH, et al. Don’t forget ototoxicity during the SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) pandemic! International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. January 2020. doi:10.1177/2058738420941754