New study to investigate COVID-19 links to hearing loss

New study launches to investigate COVID-19 links to hearing loss
© iStock/AndreyPopov

A major UK study is set to launch that will investigate the possible long-term impact of COVID-19 on hearing.

The one year study, led by researchers at NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and funded by RNID, The Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust (DCEPT), and The University of Manchester, will investigate the long-term impact of COVID-19 on hearing in people who have received hospital treatment for the virus.

It will be co-led by Professor Kevin Munro, Manchester BRC Hearing Health Lead and Professor of Audiology at the University of Manchester, and aims to  estimate the number and severity of disorders related to COVID-19 in the UK, as well as discover what parts of the auditory system might be affected, and explore the association between these and other factors such as lifestyle, the presence of one or more additional conditions (comorbidities), and critical care interventions.

The impact of viruses on the auditory system

Viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss, but so far there is limited understanding of the impact that coronavirus has on the auditory system, with COVID-19 patients often reporting auditory problems. A recent study suggested that more than 13% of COVID-19 patients who were discharged from hospital reported a change in their hearing.

For the study, over 100 patients who were hospitalised with COVID-19 will undergo hearing tests which will be compared to a control group of people previously hospitalised for other conditions not thought to affect hearing.

Co-lead Professor Chris Plack, Manchester BRC Paediatric Diagnosis Associate Lead, said: “The research will be conducted in our bespoke hearing research van, with state-of-the art facilities that conform to clinical standards for COVID-19. With this ability we are uniquely placed to take this important research out on the road to make taking part as easy as possible.”

Professor Kevin Munro said: “Over the last few months I have received numerous emails from people who reported a change in their hearing, or tinnitus after having COVID-19. We know that viruses can damage hearing so the virus responsible for COVID-19 may also damage hearing. While this is alarming, caution is required when interpreting this finding as it is unclear if changes to hearing are directly attributed to COVID-19 or to other factors, such as treatments to deliver urgent care. Clearly there is an urgent need for a carefully conducted clinical and diagnostic study to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the auditory system.”

Dr Ralph Holme, Executive Director of Research, RNID said: “We are delighted to co-fund this vital research so we can urgently understand if and how coronavirus might damage hearing and so people can be given the support they need to manage their hearing loss. Understanding which part of the auditory system is affected is the first step. We then need to find treatments to prevent the virus causing hearing loss.”

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