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UA Professor examines possible link between COVID-19 vaccine and tinnitus

Shaowen Bao
Posted at 3:29 PM, Sep 22, 2021

A University of Arizona researcher is looking for commonalities in hundreds of people who have reported sudden or worsening tinnitus after receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

Watch the ABC15's full investigation on Unheard Concerns, the COVID-19 vaccine and tinnitus.

“The risk is small, but it seems to me that it is there,” said Shaowen Bao, an assistant professor of Physiology at the University of Arizona. Bao is also on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the American Tinnitus Association.

Bao is surveying adults across the country to determine what, if any, relationship there may be between the onset of tinnitus and the COVID-19 vaccination. So far, he said he collected information from 300-400 people.

Participants answer questions about tinnitus onset time, severity, characteristics of their tinnitus, and other hearing-related symptoms. They also indicate whether they had other sensory issues or neuroinflammatory disorders.

The ABC15 Investigators were first to expose the previously unheard concerns of so many people who got the shots and were bothered by ringing in their ears.

Bao is looking for any patterns that could explain why these people are suffering after the shot. He hopes to publish his results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The professor has focused his research on tinnitus for years.

“My research is on possible connections between neuroinflammation and tinnitus,” Bao said. “Vaccination is an immune response; it could cause inflammation - peripheral inflammation - and peripheral inflammation could affect the brain where the tinnitus is initiated.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration continue to say there’s no causal connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and tinnitus.

Vaccine manufacturers Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer stress COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They encourage anyone suffering an adverse event after the shot to report it.

The CDC has a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. As of September 3, more than 10,000 people had reported the symptom of tinnitus after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s a small fraction of the 200 million people who were vaccinated.

“I have tinnitus, and I took the two doses of the vaccine,” Bao said. “It did not affect my tinnitus, so I know most people are fine.”

Tinnitus is a common ailment that has multiple causes, but severe tinnitus can dramatically impact people’s lives. Bao said, in some cases, it leads to depression, even suicide.

Tinnitus Causing Distress? The American Tinnitus Association offers resources and a hotline for immediate help

Prof. Bao hopes his research, once finished, will lead to a better understanding for tinnitus sufferers as well as people weighing the pros and cons of the vaccine.

People will be better educated, and they will make their decision,” Bao said. “I think most of the time the decision is to take the vaccine.”

A recent University of Manchester study found 14 percent of people surveyed who got sick with coronavirus also said they got tinnitus. So, the chances of having this hearing issue are much greater if someone forgoes the vaccine and contracts the virus.

Bao said his preliminary discussions with post-COVID-19 vaccine tinnitus sufferers indicate their symptoms become less over time and tend to spontaneously resolve.

Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com if you got tinnitus after the COVID-19 shot. Stay informed on all Melissa's stories by following her on Twitter and Facebook.