The more that’s learned about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the more far-reaching it seems. New research suggests that COVID-19 can infect the ear and affect hearing and balance.
Reports of COVID-19 patients with symptoms like hearing loss, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, and balance problems prompted MIT scientists to look at how the virus may enter the ear to influence hearing and equilibrium.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers used cellular models of human ears, along with adult human ear tissue, and exposed them to the virus. They found it could infect the inner ear, specifically stereocilia, the small hairs that are needed for hearing and balance. They also learned that other parts of the ear are not susceptible to the virus.
It’s possible the virus can enter the ear through the Eustachian tube, the small passageway that connects your throat to your middle ear (it opens when you sneeze, swallow, or yawn), or through small openings surrounding olfactory nerves.
Once inside, it’s possible that the virus can lead to both hearing and balance problems. It’s unknown how many people have experienced such symptoms, but there are reports of its occurrence.
If you’ve been having inexplicable trouble hearing or noticed your balance waning, it may indicate a COVID-19 infection. Self-isolation protocols and testing are advised.
It’s also possible that this is a very rare symptom of COVID-19. Researchers also don’t know if the infection would lead to long-term structural damage that could jeopardize hearing and balance for an extended period.
In any event, these findings have provoked another area of potential treatment techniques and further exploration of the virus.
The COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be an effective method against serious infections that lead to hospitalization. Governing health bodies in North America have recently authorized booster shots for specific demographics as we move into the winter months.