According to Dr Beukes, more research is needed to establish whether the coronavirus is exacerbating the condition of those suffering from tinnitus.
Sputnik: How can viral infections affect our hearing?
Eldre Beukes: There are various viral infections, including rubella, measles, and mumps that are all known to affect the hearing and the balance system. But fortunately, there are many effective vaccines for many of these viruses. However, if they are contracted, they may damage the ear structures, and sometimes they can cause an inflammatory response in the ear. And the resulting effect can affect hearing, but this can vary greatly. So it may lead to a hearing loss of one ear or both ears.
And for some people, this is a temporary problem and they fully recover. Sometimes the antiviral treatments can also help recovery and for some people, there's a permanent hearing loss which may be of a mild or more severe degree. And we are seeing some reports that for some people their hearing and their tinnitus has been affected after contracting COVID-19. But this link is still unclear and we need more research to see if there's a link and the mechanisms behind this possible association.
Sputnik: How has the pandemic worsened tinnitus symptoms for individuals?
Eldre Beukes: The pandemic effects have been very variable on tinnitus. For a large majority, fortunately, it hasn't affected tinnitus. However, for about a third of people, the pandemic has seemed to have an effect on tinnitus, and there are two factors. Firstly, for those that have had COVID symptoms, it does seem as though that has exasperated tinnitus. So tinnitus seems louder, and it's causing more distress to them. And secondly, for those that haven't had COVID symptoms, the wider consequence of the pandemic has also had a negative impact on some people's experiences of tinnitus. And this looks like it's the effects of the lifestyle changes, increased anxiety for some people with more financial worries, and also the social effects of possibly having been more lonely and not having that social support they had previously and this is possibly related to a sort of two-way relationship between stress and tinnitus. Often stress causes tinnitus to be more severe and when tinnitus is more bothersome, this can cause more stress and this leads to a vicious cycle.
Sputnik: Is it possible to treat this condition?
Eldre Beukes: Tinnitus is very complex and it has resulted in no cure being found to take it away completely for those with chronic tinnitus, although research in this area is ongoing. And while this is disappointing, there are a number of things that people can do to help them manage the condition. For a small number of people, medical interventions may help if the tinnitus is related to another problem. For instance, addressing associated hearing loss can help reduce the effects of tinnitus. Interventions like mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy can also be really helpful and support can be hugely beneficial. So support from support groups offered by the British Tinnitus Association is available even during the pandemic and taking place online. I think it's really important that those with tinnitus know that there is help to hand through helplines and audiology clinical services which are working hard to offer support despite the restrictions on clinical care.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.