Is the Pandemic Making Tinnitus Worse?

According to an article published in The Hearing Review, new research reveals that tinnitus, a common condition that causes the perception of noise in the ear and head, is being made worse by COVID-19 – as well as the measures helping to keep us safe, such as isolation and social distancing.

The study of 3,103 people with tinnitus was led by ARU, with support from the British Tinnitus Association and the American Tinnitus Association. The study involved participants from 48 countries, with the vast majority coming from the UK and the U.S.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, the research found that 40% of those displaying symptoms of COVID-19 simultaneously experience a worsening of their tinnitus.

Although the study focused on people with pre-existing tinnitus, a small number of participants also reported that their condition was initially triggered by developing COVID-19 symptoms, suggesting that tinnitus could be a long-term COVID symptom in some cases.

The new study also found that a large proportion of people believe their tinnitus is being made worse by social distancing measures introduced to help control the spread of the virus. These measures have led to significant changes to work and lifestyle routines.

What is tinnitus?

Even prior to the pandemic, according to the American Tinnitus Association, millions of Americans were experiencing tinnitus, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public, more than 50 million Americans, experience some form of tinnitus. Roughly 20 million people struggle with burdensome, chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have debilitating tinnitus.

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of an external sound source. It can take on any number of characteristics and is usually a sound that only you can hear. You can experience tinnitus that varies from soft to loud and from low to high pitched. People describe their tinnitus in a number of ways, including a buzzing, clicking, ringing, white noise, and/or roaring sound. Although these descriptions are typical, each individual’s experience may be different.

What can you do for tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often the first noticeable sign of hearing loss. Currently, there is no scientifically-validated cure for tinnitus. However, there are treatment options that can ease the perceived burden of tinnitus, allowing patients to live more comfortable, productive lives. 

The first step toward effectively managing tinnitus should be to find an audiologist who can evaluate the problem. Often, the best place to start is to schedule a diagnostic hearing evaluation to better understand and diagnose what is happening with your ears and auditory system.

For many patients with tinnitus, the latest digital hearing aids may be particularly useful in managing the problem.  Some of our Kansas City, Overland Park or Independence hearing aids include supplemental sound generator functionality (white noise or other sounds, such as chimes, played directly into the ear) that helps reduce the perception of tinnitus.

This makes it more difficult to consciously perceive tinnitus and helps the brain focus on outside, ambient noises. The impact of hearing aids is particularly strong for patients who have hearing loss in the same frequency range as their tinnitus.

Hearing aids also help by augmenting the external volume of activities such as a conversation, watching television or talking on the phone, above the perceived volume of tinnitus. As a result, these individuals may feel less personal frustration and social isolation.

In some cases, hearing aids work best as part of a structured tinnitus management plan. In other cases, an alternative option may be recommended. Associated Audiologists offers a number of FDA-cleared tools for tinnitus management.

Remember, if you think you have tinnitus, it may be a sign of hearing loss, and if you’ve recently had COVID-19, and now are experiencing tinnitus, or ringing in your ears, you should talk with you medical professional. You may need a comprehensive hearing evaluation.

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