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Researchers find COVID-19 can infect inner ear, links to hearing issues

Posted at 7:30 PM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 09:32:01-05

PHOENIX — A team of researchers say they better understand why some people with COVID-19 also experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, or other hearing issues.

The researchers examined symptoms in patients with COVID-19. They also studied inner-ear tissue and cells from humans and mice.

Over the past year, their experiments showed how the virus can infect some cells in the inner ear.

RELATED: Unheard Concerns: Thousands blame COVID-19 vaccine for hearing problems.

"It both has the machinery to allow the virus to enter specific cells of the inner ear, not every cell, and when exposed to the virus, the virus readily infects certain cell types," said Dr. Konstantina Stankovic at Stanford University School of Medicine. She led the research team along with Dr. Lee Gehrke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They published their findings in October in the journal Communications Medicine.

Stankovic said they got the idea for the research after "noticing lots of people with hearing loss and tinnitus and dizziness during the peak of the COVID pandemic."

Erin Helm is a mom, a communications professional, and an author from Ahwatukee. She said her existing tinnitus got much worse after she received a COVID-19 vaccine shot and, again, when she got sick with the virus in January.

"I'm just glad to hear they are researching it," said Helm. She uses a sound machine app on her phone as therapy.

"I couldn't even hear the television over my sound machine, which I had to have up on full volume in order to not hear the ringing in my ears," Helm said. She said it was difficult to find answers about what caused her condition and how to treat it. She said she went to doctors for hearing tests and even an MRI.

Helm said the experience is "beyond frustrating."

LINK: Make a VAERS report if you experienced a health problem after receiving a vaccine.

Stankovic said her team plans to do further research on tinnitus and other hearing and inner ear issues relating to COVID-19 illness and the COVID vaccines.

"Why do some people develop these symptoms, and most importantly, what can we do to prevent them and to treat them?" Stankovic asked.

In December, one COVID-19 vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, started noting tinnitus as a reported side effect.

A University of Arizona researcher, Shaowen Bao, is currently working on a research survey of people who reported tinnitus after receiving the vaccine. He hopes to publish his findings in a scientific journal later this year.

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