Why COVID-19 Can Affect the Inner Ear and What That Means for People With Long COVID
You may already know that having a COVID-19 infection can lead to lung problems or heart problems, especially for those experiencing long Covid. However, new research suggests that COVID-19 can affect the inner ear, as well. This could lead to hearing loss and dizziness, among other symptoms.
How COVID-19 contributes to hearing loss
In a new study published in the journal Communications Medicine, researchers studied cellular models of the inner ear and inner ear tissue with SARS-CoV-2. From there, they released findings pointing to its effects.
One of the primary patterns observed aligned with the sensory symptoms found in a 10-patient study of people with COVID-19. These patients had tested positive for COVID-19, and also each developed hearing and balance symptoms like hearing loss, tinnitus – otherwise known as ringing in the ear, and/or dizziness shortly following their diagnoses.
Based on their insights, it was determined that COVID-19 may pave the way for inner ear infections that lead to problems with hearing and balance.
How Schwann and hair cells come into play
One of the key takeaways of the study involved hair cells and Schwann cells of the inner ear. Researchers found that they both express the proteins needed for a SARS-CoV-2 infection, which means they could be potential targets for an attack. What this means is that during a COVID-19 infection, SARS-CoV-2 can attach to the inner ear’s hair cells and Schwann cells, both of which contribute to our ability to hear.
Infections for mothers and babies
The study authors noted that for those whose inner ears are still developing in utero, a congenital viral infection can cause significant complications, among them hearing loss. Researchers have found that SARS-CoV-2 is capable of infecting OPCs, a type of cell found in the fetal inner ear as it develops.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends the COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant people to help prevent an infection that could lead to hearing loss in newborns.
What to look out for
It’s important to pay attention to any symptoms like vertigo, hearing problems and ringing in the ears. Some symptoms, like loss of taste and smell or respiratory symptoms, are known signs of an infection. But lesser-known symptoms, like dizziness or hearing loss, can also point to an active COVID-19 infection affecting the inner ear. For those with long COVID, some of these symptoms can linger long after the initial illness.
While these signs and symptoms aren’t as common as others, they shouldn’t be ignored, especially among those who test positive or are exposed to COVID-19. If you display neurological symptoms of a SARS-CoV-2 infection, consult with your doctor – or seek immediate medical attention for serious complications.