London: Researchers have revealed that tinnitus, a common condition that causes the perception of noise in the ear and head, is being exacerbated by COVID-19 -- as well as the measures taken to stop its spread.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, involved 3,103 participants from 48 countries, with the vast majority coming from the UK and the US.
"We found that 40 per cent of those displaying symptoms of COVID-19 simultaneously experience a worsening of their tinnitus," said study authors from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in the UK.
Although the study focused on people with pre-existing tinnitus, a small number of participants also reported that their condition was initially triggered by developing COVID-19 symptoms, suggesting that tinnitus could be a 'long COVID' symptom in some cases.
The study also found that a large proportion of people believe their tinnitus is being made worse by social distancing measures introduced to help control the spread of the virus.
These measures have led to significant changes to work and lifestyle routines.
UK respondents reported this to be a greater issue compared to people from other countries, with 46 per cent of UK respondents saying that lifestyle changes had negatively impacted their tinnitus compared to 29 per cent in North America.
Females and the under-50s found tinnitus significantly more bothersome during the pandemic.
The study noted that as well as increasing the severity of tinnitus symptoms, the COVID-19 pandemic has also made it more difficult for people to access healthcare support for the condition.
This could further increase emotional distress and worsen tinnitus symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.
The findings highlight the complexities associated with experiencing tinnitus and how both internal factors, such as increased anxiety and feelings of loneliness, and external factors, such as changes to daily routines, can have a significant effect on the condition.
"Some of the changes brought about by COVID-19 appear to have had a negative impact on the lives of people with tinnitus and participants in this study reported that COVID-19 symptoms are worsening or, in some cases, even initiating tinnitus and hearing loss," the researchers wrote.
"This is something that needs to be closely examined by both clinical and support services," they noted.