COVID-19 and Earaches: Is There a Correlation?
January 28, 2022

The past two years have been tough on many people; COVID has truly changed the world in immense ways. Large group gatherings are now somewhat of a taboo. Travel abroad is no longer just a ticket away but a series of hoops to jump through to ensure the spread is contained. 

While from a societal perspective, a lot has changed, another area that has seen immense change is in what we understand about the virus and infection. Back in early 2020, there were tons of unknowns of this novel virus.

Today, nearly two years later, we are still dealing with the pandemic, but we now have a much better understanding of the virus and how it impacts the body. 

One increasingly asked question is what effects COVID could have on hearing and the ears in general. Below is a closer look at the potential connection between COVID-19 and ears and whether COVID earaches are something you should be concerned about. 

What Is an Earache?

At some point or another, you have likely stumbled across an earache. Whether you were swimming as a child and had a case of swimmer's ear or getting over a cold to be greeted with pain from your ears. While children tend to have earaches at a higher frequency, they can occur at any age. 

Earaches can be broken down into three main types based upon where the issue is occurring within the ear. Below is a closer look at each of the different types of earaches and what can be done about them.  

Outer Earache

An outer earache is an ear infection or irritation that occurs before the eardrum within the ear canal. This type of earache is more commonly known as swimmers’ ear and is quite common. 

This specific earache occurs because of trapped water or moisture in the ear canal. The warm moist environment makes it a perfect place for bacteria and fungi to grow and cause an infection. 

Middle Earache

A middle earache, also known as otitis media, is a condition where irritation or infection occurs behind the eardrum. Behind the eardrum, there is a space known as the tympanic cavity that allows pressure to equalize between the middle and outer ear.

This cavity connects to the back of the throat with the eustachian tubes, and occasionally these tubes can become clogged and trap moisture, fluid, and cause pain. Middle earaches can resolve on their own, but some may require a visit to the doctor to get better. 

Inner Earache

An inner earache, also known as otitis interna, occurs when the cochlea or labyrinths of the inner ear become inflamed. These earaches are quite rare since these structures have little exposure to the external environment.

The inner ear has many functions, including allowing your ear to turn sound into nerve impulses and helping in your ability to stay balanced. With otitis interna, it can cause you to feel dizzy, have a lack of balance, and have a degree of hearing loss. 

Is There a Connection Between COVID-19 and Earaches?

The main symptoms of a COVID infection include an elevated temperature, a cough, congestion, headache, and general flu-like symptoms.

While these are the main symptoms during the infection, there have been a number of long-haul symptoms that have been observed. These symptoms can include a diminished sense of taste, lasting fatigue, headaches, and even certain heart problems. 

Because a loss of taste is associated with a COVID infection, many people wonder if it can impact other senses, including your hearing. While this is still an area of continual research through new studies, we know much more when it comes to how COVID could impact the ears.

Below is a closer look at the current information about the potential link between earaches and COVID-19. 

Congestion and Middle Earache

One of the more common ear-associated problems that could be linked to COVID is a middle earache. The congestion and upper respiratory inflammation associated with COVID have the potential to block the eustachian tubes that lead to the middle ear.

As a result, this can lead to a middle earache. This connection is not unique to COVID and can occur as a result of the flu, a cold, or even allergies. 

COVID-19 and the Inner Ear

Even though there have been a number of studies concerning COVID and how it affects the body, the look into how it impacts the ears has largely gone undiscovered until quite recently. 

One of the most recent bodies of evidence of ear problems due to COVID was published in late 2021. This research aimed to determine if the SARS-CoV-2 virus had the ability to infect the tissues of the inner ear.

This research was started as a result of some individuals experiencing otological symptoms such as balance issues, tinnitus, and hearing loss which all point to a potential infection of the inner ear. 

SARS-CoV-2 is able to infect specific tissues in the body due to its specific spike proteins that allow it to attach to specific proteins on the wall of cells. These proteins can be found in a number of different organs and tissues, and within the inner ear, it appeared that there was a possibility to infect certain cells. The research created inner tissues that were in question and found that SARS-CoV-2 was able to infect them. 

This finding helps to further the understanding of COVID and the potential organs that can be impacted. With this knowledge, people who may experience auditory symptoms of COVID now have research that points to the potential underlying reason, which could ultimately lead to the development of therapeutics and medications to help. 

Lasting Effects of Earaches

Earaches are typically short-lived, but they do have the potential to cause damage to your ears or result in lasting problems if they occur frequently. Earaches are mostly characterized by the pain that is felt.

However, an aspect that is shared amongst all types of earaches is inflammation. Inflammation is a natural bodily response of the immune system to fight back against foreign invaders. While inflammation is a helpful process for the immune system, frequent or severe inflammation has the possibility of causing damage.

Below is a closer look at two potential long term issues that can arise as a result of earaches: 

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur in two distinct fashions as a result of earaches. The first is short-term hearing loss that is caused by the inflammation or accumulation of fluid. Middle ear infections, for example, can retain fluid in the tympanic cavity and result in individuals feeling like they are hearing things in a muffled manner, almost as if they were underwater temporarily. 

The second and less common is the development of lasting hearing loss. When an individual experiences frequent earaches or earaches that last an extended period of time, the inflammation from it can lead to damage that results in a diminished sense of hearing. 

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition that is characterized by the perception of a sound that is not actually present in your immediate environment. Many people with tinnitus notice it as a slight ringing in the ears. While fairly benign, it can become distracting and can place a burden on your day-to-day life. 

Tinnitus can have a number of different causes, and an earache can certainly contribute to tinnitus. Inflammation of the sensitive components of the ear can cause a malfunction that causes the ear to detect a sound when it is not actually present. Tinnitus can be a temporary or chronic issue. Finding a remedy can sometimes be difficult. 

How To Manage Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be difficult to deal with, especially if you are dealing with COVID hearing loss, but luckily there are options that can allow you to regain your ability to hear. Hearing aids are by far one of the best ways to regain a sense of normalcy, but many options can charge you an arm and a leg to get one. 

At Audien, we believe that cost should be the last thing on your mind when getting your hearing aids, and that is why we offer hearing aids at an incredible value. With four different options available, you can find the best option for you and your budget. 

Continuing Research

In summary, there are a lot of things still unknown about COVID. As time passes, we continue to learn more and more about how it impacts the body. The recent discoveries of COVID and how it may infect the inner ear point to how earaches and COVID may have a relationship. 


Sources

SARS-CoV-2 infection of the inner ear | National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Ear infection (middle ear) - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

COVID 'Long Haulers': Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 | Johns Hopkins Medicine

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Drew Sutton M.D.

Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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