How COVID-19 is impacting hearing and balance loss
Posted on 31 August 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic is a phenomenon which is historically rare, for which healthcare systems and populations across the world were ill-prepared. The pandemic has affected people, businesses, and healthcare facilities around the world.
Because of the plethora of symptoms associated with COVID-19, many people experience the virus differently. Common symptoms include sore throat, headache, coughing, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, tightness of chest, loss of taste and smell, and more severely, pneumonia, blood clots, and stroke. However, a significantly increasing number of patients are reporting complications in the hearing and balance system, either during or immediately after Covid infection.
According to Dr Natalie Buttress, an audiologist at Mediclinic Durbanville, “COVID-19 affects the hearing and balance either through inflammation of the vestibulocochlear nerve (neuritis) or by causing swelling in the cochlea or vestibular system (labyrinthitis). Important auditory symptoms to note are sudden loss of hearing, overnight or within a matter of hours, and sudden onset tinnitus. Vestibular and balance symptoms to note are a sudden sensation of intense spinning, rocking, or tilting, or feeling severely off balance and unable to walk. Auditory and vestibular symptoms may occur together or separately.”
Mild, slow hearing loss and a little bit of dizziness can be expected from any viral infection. However, the sudden loss of hearing or extreme balance disturbance is considered an urgent medical problem. Course of management may begin with a consultation and assessment with your general practitioner or ENT specialist, for treatment. Richard Clarke, audiologist at NB Hearing, believes that this is important because, when medication is delivered within the first 72 hours of viral infection of the balance or hearing organs or vestibulocochlear nerve, there is an increased likelihood of preserving the function of that organ. Delayed treatment can result in more permanent effects. “Once you have consulted your GP or ENT specialist, it is important to have a comprehensive functional assessment of either the auditory or vestibular systems (or both), with a qualified audiologist. Management via rehabilitation or aiding can help to compensate for any damage caused,” he explains.
Dr Buttress and Mr Clarke are registered audiologists who focus on both hearing and balance diagnostics and rehabilitation. Their team practices in Mediclinic Durbanville, as well as in Sea Point, Wynberg, Hout Bay and Noordhoek. Their practice, NB Hearing and Balance, is a member of the Reconnect Audiology Network with independent professionals, nationally.
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