But you shouldn’t assume you have the novel coronavirus if only your ears start to feel funny.
As COVID-19 cases continue to grow, scientists are discovering that it can cause a slew of symptoms, some rarer than others. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.S., public health officials only listed three signs of illness to look out for: fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
That list, of course, has grown exponentially and now includes other signs associated with respiratory diseases, like overwhelming fatigue, headaches, and a sore throat. The virus is also causing lasting health issues in certain people dubbed as “COVID-19 long haulers,” who report experiencing side effects like hair loss, memory problems, and heart palpitations for months after recovering.
Now, another symptom seems to be getting a bit of buzz on social media. On Twitter, people are sharing stories linking earaches with a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“My neighbor across the street had an earache that turned out to be COVID,” one person shared. “The order of my symptoms were: tiredness, fever and chills, really sore throat and earache, light dry cough, weird blisters on my fingers. Then a further three months of chest pain, headaches, earache, and tiredness,” another person wrote.
Earaches linked to upper respiratory tract infections usually cause pain in the ear, a sensation of blockage, and even muffled hearing. “There have been reports of people with COVID-19 having earaches, and there is biological plausibility with it,” says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York.
But should you assume you have COVID-19 if your ears start to feel a bit funny? Here’s what doctors have to say.
First, what are the official symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common signs of the novel coronavirus include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
However, the agency does note that this list doesn’t cover all possible symptoms. For instance, skin rashes and pink eye have also been linked to COVID-19, but more research is needed.
Is an earache a symptom of COVID-19?
The World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t list earaches as a symptom of COVID-19 and ear symptoms are not routinely asked about as part of COVID-19 screening questions in the U.S. Like the CDC, the WHO simply confirms that you may experiences “aches” from the coronavirus.
But doctors agree that it’s possible to experience an earache from COVID-19, even though it doesn’t seem to be a common symptom like a fever or dry cough. “It’s on the spectrum of symptoms you would expect,” says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“I have not seen this with any of my patients,” adds Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. Dr. Adalja confirms he hasn’t either.
Of course, it could just be a rare manifestation of the virus—and scientists are digging into the connection. “This is an active area of research,” says Elliott D. Kozin, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “It is generally not known to what degree ear symptoms may be indicative of COVID-19.”
How could COVID-19 cause an earache?
“To date, there are published reports that have identified SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus) in the middle ear,” Dr. Kozin explains. “However, we do not know to what degree the presence of the virus may result in any hearing symptoms. In other words, SARS-CoV-2 may be present, but not result in any noticeable symptoms.”
There are some theories. “For the vast majority of patients, given available data, hearing symptoms are most likely due to a secondary inflammation of the upper airway,” which includes your nose, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, and voice box, Dr. Kozin says. “That said, our understanding of the virus and its impact on the body is changing on a daily basis.”
COVID-19 can also cause inflammation in the sinuses, back of your throat, and eustachian tubes (which run from the middle ear to the upper throat and back of the nasal cavity). “That can cause discomfort in your ear,” Dr. Adalja says.
Can tinnitus also be a symptom of COVID-19?
In case you’re not familiar with the term, tinnitus is a ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound in your ears. It can be soft, loud, and high or low pitched, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Tinnitus signals that something is wrong in the auditory system, and it can be caused by a range of things. Those include:
- Earwax blocking the ear canal
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Ear and sinus infections
- Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
- Ménière’s disease
- Brain tumors
- Hormonal changes in women
- Thyroid abnormalities
Tinnitus may be an infrequent symptom of COVID-19, but “at this time there is not enough data or knowledge to draw a potential link,” Dr. Kozin says.
“We do know that the new coronavirus doesn’t just affect the lungs—it can affect the central nervous system, brain, and other organs,” Dr. Russo says. In terms of ear symptoms, COVID-19 could potentially affect nerves in the vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and brain.
Bottom line: If you have an earache or tinnitus, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have COVID-19.
There are many causes of ear-related symptoms, including infections, earwax buildup, or even a change in ear pressure. If you’re experiencing an earache or tinnitus without other common signs of COVID-19, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
“COVID-19 may cause a constellation of symptoms,” Dr. Kozin says. “To date, there is no strong data to support that isolated hearing symptoms, such ear pain or hearing loss, are indicative of COVID-19.”
Of course, if you happen to develop an earache and you do show other signs of the novel coronavirus, Dr. Russo recommends calling your doctor to discuss your symptoms. “When in doubt, it’s always safer to get tested than not,” he says.
If the ear pain persists for longer than a few days or gets worse over time, call your doctor. They can help identify the issue and recommend treatment if needed.
Author: Korin Miller
Source: Prevention: How an Earache Could Be a Possible COVID-19 Symptom, According to Doctors