Joint Research Office


Clinicians highlight a potential COVID-19 link to hearing loss

21 October 2020

Researchers have reported for the first time on a patient who developed sudden irreversible hearing loss after being hospitalised for Covid-19.

The team of ENT surgeons from UCL and UCLH, consisting Miss Stefania Koumpa, Mr Cillian Forde and led by Mr Joseph Manjaly, suggest that clinicians treating Covid-19 patients should ask screening questions for hearing loss to enable early identification and treatment with steroids – which currently offer the best chance of recovering hearing.

The team outlined in a paper in BMJ Case Reports the experience of a 45-year-old man who noticed sudden left-sided hearing loss and tinnitus after recovering and leaving the UCLH  intensive care unit. He had no previous history of hearing loss or ear problems.

After having a hearing test at UCLH and other tests to exclude other causes of hearing loss, the patient was diagnosed with sudden sensorineural hearing loss potentially related to COVID-19.  This type of hearing loss involves a rapid loss in inner ear hearing – usually in one ear. The patient received the recommended treatment with steroids which partially restored his hearing.

There have been four other cases of hearing loss reported internationally following COVID-19.

This case report, which has attracted international media attention, brings into focus the questions that still remain about the cause and outcome of sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

A team from the NIHR UCLH BRC Deafness and Hearing Problems Theme is addressing these questions in the ongoing SeaSHeL study. SeaSHeL is a nationwide study of adults presenting with sudden sensorineural hearing loss within the NHS and looks at risk factors, treatments and outcomes. The study is delivered by the UK ENT Trainee Research Collaborative INTEGRATE and audiologists championing research within their service. 

This study feeds in to research prioritised by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme looking at the best way of delivering steroids in patients with sudden sensorineural hearing loss: oral tablets, injections into the ear, or both. The NIHR UCLH BRC team has been invited to submit a full application to the programme.

Read coverage of the case report in the Guardian.