A mother-of-two has lost all hearing in her right ear after suffering only mild symptoms from COVID-19.
Meredith Harrell, 42, noticed in July that one of her ears began ringing and that she couldn’t hear anything out of that ear.
A week later, she tested positive for COVID-19. Her doctor believed her positive diagnosis is likely the culprit behind her hearing loss.
Viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can sometimes cause hearing loss, and now experts believe that COVID-19 might be added to the list.
“It was like someone flipping a switch,” Harrell told CNN of her hearing loss.
Her family tested positive for the virus, but she was the only one affected by hearing loss. Her husband and two sons suffered mild symptoms or none at all.
She believes her family may have been exposed after meeting a friend outside back in June.
At this time, there are no statistics available on how common hearing loss is in COVID-19 patients, but a couple of small studies believe the two are linked.
One study from England published in the Internal Journal of Audiology asked patients eight weeks after being discharged from the hospital if they experienced hearing loss. Of the 138 patients asked, 13% said yes.
“We’re hearing more and more that people have hearing loss as part of their COVID infection,” Dr. Matthew Stewart, associate professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told CNN.
Stewart and his colleagues studied the cadavers of three people who died after having the virus. In two of the three cadavers, they found the virus present in the inner ear. Their study was published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
Stewart told CNN that he believes there is likely a link between COVID-19, causing blood clots in other areas of the body and hearing loss. He believes it could possibly stem from the same thing happening in the tiny blood vessels in the ear.
The only treatment for COVID related hearing loss is high doses of oral steroids. Liam, a 23-year-old student who chose not to share his last name, told CNN that he lost 70-80% of his hearing in his left ear after a COVID-19 infection. After a round of steroids, he was able to regain all of his hearing except for high tones, but the ringing in his ear has not gone away.
“It’s really dreadful,” Liam said.
Despite being treated with steroids, Harrell’s hearing has not returned, and she is still experiencing tinnitus.
“I wasn’t sick, but I still had consequences,” she said.