It seems like every time we turn around the list of lingering effects caused by COVID-19 just keeps growing. We’ve learned that the virus can steal your sense of taste and smell, cause respiratory distress and long-haul symptoms like joint pain, heart palpitations, fatigue, brain fog and more.
For some, these effects can last for months!
Now there are strange new symptoms to add to the almost limitless impact of COVID-19 — hearing, balance and tinnitus problems.
COVID-19, your nervous system and pandemic stress
In fact, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas, evidence suggests auditory and vestibular effects should be added to the growing list of symptoms caused by Covid.
They say that not only can hearing and balance disorders be associated with coronavirus infection, but pandemic-related stress could also aggravate tinnitus. That’s the condition where you experience ringing or other noises in your ears that don’t come from an external source. And it can be quite aggravating.
So how and why does a Covid infection affect your hearing?
Well, the truth is that much of the damage the virus causes is due to inflammation.
This inflammation can happen in your lungs, affecting your breathing. In the middle of the pandemic, we learned that severe inflammation caused by cytokine storms contributed to severe cases of the disease.
But since then, research has found it can also affect your neurological tissue, damaging the auditory and vestibular pathways in your peripheral and central nervous system.
This can cause loss of hearing and balance issues.
The stress connection
To top it off, several studies have now found that the mental anxiety caused by the pandemic can make hearing problems worse.
This can be that lockdown-related stress, financial worries, and even concerns about how wearing masks can affect your ability to communicate.
The researchers say the likelihood of this happening is especially high for people who already had tinnitus before the pandemic.
“Increases in tinnitus bothersomeness were associated with reports of pandemic-related loneliness, sleep troubles, anxiety, depression, irritability, and financial worries,” says lead researcher, Colleen Le Prell, of UT Dallas. “In other words, participants who experienced general increases in stress reported their tinnitus to be more bothersome than before the pandemic.”
So simply feeling lonely or stressed due to the pandemic could amp up that ringing that was already an issue before you even knew about COVID-19.
The auditory side effects of COVID treatments
If all of that wasn’t enough, the research team says that if you end up with Covid and are treated with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine you could also experience auditory side effects.
The dangers of this are even higher if you have kidney problems.
That’s because if your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, they may not be able to clear the drugs out of your body as quickly which can increase their hearing risks.
And since age is often accompanied by decreased renal function, older patients given these treatments may have a higher chance of these complications.
How to improve these symptoms
Two ways to try to deal with these effects are to work at decreasing the inflammation in your body that may still be contributing to your lingering symptoms and find de-stressing techniques that work for you.
The easiest way to tamp down inflammation is to avoid foods that raise it. Start by reducing foods that produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
AGEs are toxins produced in the body after you eat certain foods. They cause oxidative stress and inflammation. AGEs are highest in animal products like meat, dairy, fish and eggs. And they’re amplified even more by certain cooking methods like grilling, roasting, searing, frying or baking. Also steer clear of refined carbs (white bread), French fries, soda and sugar.
Give an alkaline diet a try. Eating fruits and vegetables high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients decreases inflammation and improves blood sugar, digestion and energy levels. All things that help you feel good. And when you feel better, stress is easier to deal with.
To better control your stress level, get plenty of exercise, work to maintain a routine to help you feel in control and be sure to get the sleep you need to face your day.
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