The Impact of COVID-19 on our hearing and balance

The Impact of COVID-19 on our hearing and balance

The recent news that the first man in Britain has suffered permanent hearing loss* after developing COVID-19 is undoubtedly worrying.

The coronavirus family is not new to us, and through our understanding of its other virus family members, we can tell that it is likely to enter the central nervous system in a similar way (1). This is evidenced by COVID’s trademark symptoms of impairing smell and taste (2), and so it is not a far leap to question whether the disease can cause balance or hearing issues as other viral infections have been proven to (3).

Indeed, up to 12% of confirmed COVID patients since the initial outbreak in Wuhan have reported dizziness as an identifiable symptom (4), and other studies have found over 10% suffered from lasting hearing issues (5).

In the current climate-driven by COVID-19 a more sedentary lifestyle is becoming commonplace, and the vestibular system (the motion-detecting organ of our inner-ear) is therefore going to be less stimulated for a growing number of people. When impairment of our inner-ear happens quickly, often through a viral infection, the symptoms can be severe – comprising rapid hearing loss, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting, and vertigo lasting for days on end.

It is still too early to prove whether the coronavirus itself can directly affect the inner ear. Armed with this initial information, and foreseeing our less mobile lifestyle, it is highly likely we will see an increase in the number of inner-ear related balance and hearing disorders in people over the coming months.

At Clifton Audiology, we are prepared to help and deal with any consequences of viral illnesses, like COVID-19, on hearing loss and balance disorders.

We have several services and are using the latest state of the art equipment to help diagnose and then recommend treatment or rehabilitation.

Please contact us to find out more.

*BBC News Article

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28103598/
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32353521/
3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/14992027.2019.1689432
4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32162702/
5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14992027.2020.1798519

How your ear health affects your balance

Our ears do more than just hear for us. They help in keeping us upright by communicating with our brain to coordinate how we move. When the inner ear is not working properly this can impact our balance, making us feel unsteady, wobbly or feel like we are constantly moving even whilst still.

Our sense of balance is controlled by the part of our inner ear called the vestibular system. It is used to detect motion and relay the information to our muscles via the brain so that we can position our bodies as we want. When this organ or its nerve supply are impaired we struggle to keep our balance, and we experience dizziness or vertigo.

Unfortunately, our hearing tends to decline as we age and so too can the vestibular function of the inner ear. This explains why as audiologists we see an increased likelihood of vertigo, imbalance, and falls in elderly people. Part of the reason why this happens is that the vestibular system is less stimulated as we become less mobile.

Balance: signs and symptoms

A spinning or rotary sensation lasting for a short amount of time triggered by certain movements (lying down, bending over, quick head turns, rolling over in bed etc.).

This could be Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV for short. It happens when natural crystals become lodged in the wrong part of your inner ear, sometimes after a head injury for example. This can be treated quickly and effectively by a trained audiologist with a series of simple manoeuvres to dislodge the crystals.

Severe dizziness accompanied by over sensitivity to light or sound, and often a headache on just one side of the head.

This could be migraine-associated vertigo, which is a surprisingly common issue amongst people who suffer from migraines. This type of vertigo is usually treated by performing a comprehensive assessment of migraine triggers and introducing management techniques to dramatically reduce the likelihood and severity of an episode.

Intense spinning dizziness lasting for hours, often accompanied by vomiting and loss of hearing or tinnitus.

This could be Labyrinthitis. This type of vertigo usually happens after a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, and can most effectively be treated by administering antiviral medications and/or steroids to the affected ear as quickly as possible. Often people are diagnosed late and have longer-lasting effects.  This can be managed with a tailored physical therapy programme.

These key signs are for informational purposes only, and there can be many other causes for dizziness or imbalance. If you experience any of these symptoms it is important that you seek medical attention immediately, to identify what exactly is causing your dizziness and what the best treatment may be. Here at Clifton Audiology, we provide detailed diagnostics of the inner ear using state of the art audiovestibular testing equipment, and we also provide bespoke rehabilitation to help patients deal with the lasting effects of these inner ear problems.

Jonathan Doyle, MSc BSc (Hons) RHAD, is our resident expert in balance and runs the Clifton Audiology balance testing and rehabilitation clinic. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more.

New Balance Testing Service

Using state of the art video-eye recording and neurophysiological equipment Clifton Audiology can now assess inner ear function to help diagnose balance disorders

New Balance testing service

Vestibular Function Testing is the technical name for the balance testing service which will allow the team to get to the root cause of clients’ balance problems in order to provide them with targeted treatment.

Jonathan Doyle is one of the team who will perform the diagnostic testing. He holds a degree in neuroscience from the University of Manchester, as well as a master’s degree in audiology, and before joining Clifton Audiology worked as a clinician on Harley Street, London.

Jonathan says:

“The new testing equipment allows us to find exactly where the problem is and along with consideration of our clients medical history, suggest a diagnosis based on the results.”

The vestibular system is a portion of the inner ear which assists your balance, and often dizziness or vertigo can result from an issue in this organ.

On the outcome of your diagnostic report, the team will advise clients of the most appropriate treatment and can customise an effective vestibular rehabilitation programme which will be carried out by one of the team, including Fiona Watts, Clinical Director and Audiologist and Hearing Therapist and Mercedes Collins, a Clinical Scientist in Audiology.

Fiona says:

“Finding the cause is just the start of the process, our rehabilitation service helps our clients take control of their symptoms, improve them and regain their confidence.”

Please note, Clifton Audiology always advises consulting with your GP / dedicated healthcare professional first before booking an appointment.

If you are referred by an ENT, GP, or other speciality consultant, they will be sent a detailed copy of the report and results two working days after the appointment.