A major UK study to investigate the possible long-term impact of COVID-19 on hearing, led by researchers at NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and funded by RNIDThe Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust (DCEPT), and The University of Manchester has been announced on the university’s website.

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The one-year study will be co-led by Professor Kevin Munro, Manchester BRC Hearing health lead and professor of audiology at The University of Manchester, and will investigate the long-term impact of COVID-19 on hearing among people who have been previously treated in hospital for the virus.

Manchester BRC bridges the gap between new discoveries and individualized care through pioneering research. The BRC’s Hearing Health Theme is improving the lives of adults and children by preventing potentially devastating congenital deafness, diagnosing acquired age-related hearing deficits, and developing new treatments.

This research aims to accurately estimate the number and severity of COVID-19 related hearing disorders in the UK, discover what parts of the auditory system might be affected, and explore the association between these and other factors such as lifestyle, the presence of one or more additional conditions (comorbidities), and critical care interventions.

Detailed hearing tests will be carried out by researchers in over 100 patients previously hospitalized with COVID-19 and compared to a control group of people previously hospitalized for other conditions not thought to affect hearing. Professor Chris Plack, Manchester BRC pediatric diagnosis associate lead who will co-lead the study, said: “The research will be conducted in our bespoke hearing research van, with state-of-the art facilities that conform to clinical standards for COVID-19. With this ability we are uniquely placed to take this important research out on the road to make taking part as easy as possible.”

Professor Kevin Munro
Professor Kevin Munro

It is known that viruses such as measles, mumps, and meningitis can cause hearing loss, but little is understood about the auditory effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Hearing loss has been reported anecdotally as a side effect of COVID-19, with a recent study led by Munro, suggesting that more than 13% of patients who were discharged from hospital reported a change in their hearing.

Munro said: “Over the last few months I have received numerous emails from people who reported a change in their hearing, or tinnitus after having COVID-19. We know that viruses can damage hearing so the virus responsible for COVID-19 may also damage hearing. While this is alarming, caution is required when interpreting this finding as it is unclear if changes to hearing are directly attributed to COVID-19 or to other factors, such as treatments to deliver urgent care. Clearly there is an urgent need for a carefully conducted clinical and diagnostic study to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the auditory system.”

Dr Ralph Holme, executive director of research, RNID said: “We are delighted to co-fund this vital research so we can urgently understand if and how coronavirus might damage hearing and so people can be given the support they need to manage their hearing loss. Understanding which part of the auditory system is affected is the first step. We then need to find treatments to prevent the virus causing hearing loss.”

Professor Richard Ramsden, previously a Manchester based neurotologist, and now a trustee of DCEPT said: “I welcome this important project, which has major implications for those many survivors of coronavirus infection and for clinicians who manage deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.”

Source: The University of Manchester

Image: The University of Manchester