News that a new strain of Covid has become the latest dominant variety has gained very few headlines recently amid the big stories about postmasters, floods and Gaza. To most, the virus and the once deadly threat that caused normal life to be put on hold are a fading memory.
However, while for most people, a combination of vaccination and past infections have boosted immunity to the point where any variant of Covid is unlikely to cause more than a mild illness, for a few it can still be serious. At the same time, others are still feeling the effects of ‘long Covid’, often caught back in the early waves of 2020.
As time goes on, scientists are learning more and more about the effects of the virus and conditions like long Covid, including the potential it has to damage hearing.
Among those affected in this way is broadcaster and poet Michael Rosen. As the Daily Express reported, Mr Rosen caught the disease in 2020 and was hospitalised, sharing a ward with Derek Draper, who recently died from complications of the disease.
Like Derek Draper, Mr Rosen was given a 50-50 chance of surviving but pulled through. However, the wider consequences included damage to both his eyesight and hearing. He also had to learn to walk again.
In an update shared with the paper, Mr Rosen, aged 77, said he is now “mostly fine”, but his left ear has severely impaired hearing.
This experience shows why it makes sense to book a free hearing test if you have had Covid. This is especially true if you have had any lasting symptoms, as it clearly can cause damage to the ears.
Extensive research into the long-term effects of the virus has indicated that hearing damage and also tinnitus can occur. Last year, a Manchester University analysis of the data gathered to date found that between seven and 15 per cent of adults reported audio-vestibular problems (defined as tinnitus, hearing impairment, or vertigo) after a bout of Covid.
The research noted that much is not yet known about why Covid leads to such problems, particularly tinnitus, which it suggests may be down to the stress and emotional impact of the virus rather than the infection itself.
It is known that hearing loss can be caused by viruses, but the high number of Covid infections makes it hard to establish how many instances are directly caused by it, as opposed to other causes like different viruses.
While these gaps in knowledge show how much more there is to learn about causation, there is enough evidence to suggest that anyone who has had Covid would do well to have their hearing tested afterward, even if their symptoms have been relatively mild.
While the big hope is the virus that brought the worst pandemic in a century will gradually morph into little more than the kind of cold other coronaviruses cause, for now, it is still far from benign for many people. That is why you should still be cautious and aware of the wide array of potential longer-term consequences.