As the pandemic drags on, reports of Covid-related issues including tinnitus and hearing loss are becoming more prevalent. Over 80% of people who have had Covid have some signs and symptoms of nerve problems, and one early study of adults with a wide range of Covid severity suggests that over 14% have tinnitus symptoms while another review of studies puts the number at 4.5%.
Tinnitus is the ringing or buzzing in the ear that can cause mild discomfort or debilitating symptoms. It originates in the neurons of the brain, but we perceive the sounds to be coming from the ears. These phantom sounds can be intermittent or constant and range in volume from soft and ignorable to intrusive and annoyingly loud.
It would be a relief to be able to point a finger and lay blame on the Covid virus, but reliable data just isn’t available. The studies mentioned above did not always make clear whether participants were reporting old or pre-existing tinnitus. Careful reading of published studies reveals that no one yet knows all the different ways the Covid virus triggers nerve inflammation, including specific symptoms like hearing loss and tinnitus. Published literature to date lacks evidence that the inner ear is actually infected, only that it is a possibility.
If you already have tinnitus, Covid may make your symptoms worse. A study has shown that 40% of respondents who had Covid symptoms and pre-existing tinnitus reported an increase in tinnitus symptoms. Pandemic-related changes to lifestyle, such as employment, work environment or physical activity, as well as social and emotional health issues, such as grief, financial stress or pandemic-imposed social isolation were shown to increase tinnitus severity in 32% of respondents. In other words, even if you haven’t contracted Covid, the emotional, social and health effects of the pandemic may have exacerbated your tinnitus.
If you are suffering from tinnitus symptoms, waiting for scientific studies doesn’t offer relief. The diverse internal and external factors that impact tinnitus levels complicate solutions.
Here are some things you can do to address the social and emotional consequences of pandemic-related lifestyle changes that may exacerbate tinnitus:
Loneliness – don’t let social distancing turn into social isolation. Stay connected to friends and family. Reach out to others and find ways to engage.
De-stress – recognize that the many changes and uncertainties caused by the pandemic take a toll. Take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet and watching your intake of social and digital media. Give yourself breaks from work and stressful news cycles.
Physical activity – take time to move. Take a walk, join an outdoor or online exercise class, ride a bike, walk a dog, or turn up the music (not too loud) and dance.
Sleeping habits – a good night’s sleep makes a difference. Hopefully, physical activity and reduced stress will help, but good sleep habits can also make a difference. Stick to a sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at about the same time. This helps your body become accustomed to a sleep cycle. Watch what you eat and drink. The wine or big meal that made you sleepy earlier in the evening can disrupt your sleep later on. The caffeine in the chocolate mocha gelato may end up costing you a good night’s sleep. Create a comfortable sleep environment and avoid screen time before bedtime. If you can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing like listening to calming music or reading. Return to bed when you are tired.
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