Some COVID survivors report long-term tinnitus side effect


LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As we get the upper hand on COVID-19, doctors worldwide can now concentrate on the long-term side effects. One of those possible side effects is a lingering and annoying impact on your hearing.

Sherry Petta’s COVID symptoms were fairly mild. But within days, there was one severe symptom. “I never had a fever. I never had a cough. I never lost my sense of taste and sense of smell,” she said. “My whole body is buzzing. I’m buzzing. I feel like I’m electric. My ears are ringing and my whole body is buzzing.

Dr. Michael Kubala is an ear, nose, and throat surgeon in north Texas. He has seen plenty of patients with tinnitus related to COVID. “Some are just mild symptoms. Some are severe enough to produce anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation,” Dr. Kabala said.

In March, the ringing got so paralyzing for Kent Taylor, CEO of the popular restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse. He committed suicide after experiencing “unbearable” post-COVID-19 symptoms.

“Studies show anywhere between 5% to 15% of patients have tinnitus after their infection,” Dr. Kabala said. “Anywhere between 3% to 8% percent will have sudden hearing loss.”

So even though there may be a small number of sufferers nationwide, the impact on their lives is huge. “I think I got really teared up the first time someone told me, ‘Get used to it,’” Petta said. “This is crazy. It’s in my head all the time.”

“Unfortunately, there is no magic treatment to get rid of it,” Dr. Kabala said. It never seems to go away, so doctors suggest masking techniques like white noise, meditation and even counseling. “Something called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is essentially psychology retraining the brain on how to respond to these noises,” could be helpful, Dr. Kabala said.

For Petta, an active wife and mother of two, tinnitus is part of her new normal. “Sometimes it’s very loud. Sometimes I really don’t notice it,” Petta said. “I believe it’s always there, to some degree.”

If you or someone you know, is suffering with ringing or hearing loss, doctors urge you to get a hearing test. Studies are underway across the world on how the virus impacts your audiology, but at this point, there is no definitive way to treat it, or that quiet that buzzing in your head.

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