More Czechs, especially young adults, are getting tinnitus. Is it Covid, or pandemic-related stress?

Czechia has seen a significant rise in tinnitus cases since 2019. Among them are people who had Covid-19, but also an unusually high number of young adults who did not contract the virus. Czech specialists say stress could be a factor.

“This, for example, is what tinnitus, perceived at a high frequency of 6,000 hertz and at a high volume, sounds like. That is what a sufferer hears – all day and all night.”

Dr Zuzana Veldová is a phoniatrician and audiologist – a specialist in vocal- and hearing-related disorders. Over the past two years, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, she has diagnosed more than twice as many tinnitus cases as usual.

“Within the framework of post-Covid syndrome, for example, some patients experience a loss of the sense of smell, experience headaches. But we have also registered quite a strong uptick in the onset of tinnitus and insomnia in people who have suffered Covid. The number of tinnitus cases is significantly larger now than before the pandemic.”

Tinnitus is the perception of sound, typically described as an incessant “ringing”, “whistling” or “buzzing”, when no actual sound is present. The inner-ear disorder is quite common, affecting about one in six people – but mainly older adults.

In young people, tinnitus often results from sustained exposure to loud noises, so-called acutrauma, Dr Veldová notes.

Illustrative photo: Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

“It is young people who tend to go to loud concerts, for example, and they may immediately afterwards experience a ringing in their ears. It’s important to seek immediate treatment, because they require infusions, corticoids and sessions in a hyperbaric chamber.”

While tinnitus can be a symptom of an underlying disease, the inner-ear disorder often manifests due to anxiety, stress and insomnia.

Those “psychological factors” are the likely culprits behind the doubling of cases, and greater numbers of young people being diagnosed with tinnitus during the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Veldová says. But extended hours sitting at a computer can also be a factor.

“In the time of Covid, as businesses started to close due to restrictions, or fail, more and more young people started coming to us under duress, and so we also had to work with psychiatrists.

“But IT specialists, for example, may sit at their desks for 12 hours. Their heads are bent, their arms raised, which causes problems with the vertebrogenic and carotid arteries. And so the inner ear does not get enough nutrients.”

"Much depends on the cause of the tinnitus and also on the complexity of the treatment. We have very good results if our audiological-phoniatric treatment is also supported by a psychotherapist. And plus a comprehensive rehabilitation of the musculoskeletal system.”

There have been reported cases worldwide of tinnitus and hearing loss occurring among people who have recovered from Covid-19. But the correlation and causation have yet to be determined.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Martina Rasch
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