A north-east scientist has opened up about the struggle of living with tinnitus through the pandemic, after a study last week revealed the impact Covid-19 could have on the condition.
Louise Walker, of Aberdeen University, said feeling “trapped at home” and being “stressed and anxious” while faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic might have caused her hearing condition to get worse.
The 40-year-old developed tinnitus two years ago, after she suffered from “sudden deafness” – a rare condition that left her permanently deaf in her right ear.
Since then, Miss Walker has had “a constant ringing, white static noise” in her right ear, which is not caused by an outside source.
She said she felt “terrified”, when that noise also appeared in her left ear in May.
She said: “I just woke up one morning and I could hear this loud, high-pitched beeping in my healthy ear, and this usually can be an indication of hearing loss.
“What happened to my right ear was so sudden and there wasn’t any treatment that I could have done to save it, so my worst nightmare has always been that something might happen to my other ear and I can lose whatever is left of my hearing.
“I thought the high-pitched noise will go away, but it didn’t – it’s still there all the time.”
Following an appointment with her audiologist, Miss Walker was reassured that her hearing in her left ear is intact.
However, there was no obvious reason for the alarming noise and it was suggested it could have been caused by stress.
A study, published last week by researches from Anglia Ruskin University, found that emotional factors such as fear of catching Covid-19, financial concerns and loneliness made tinnitus more bothersome in 32% of respondents.
Lead author Dr Eldre Beukes, a research fellow in Vision and Hearing Sciences at the university, said: “The findings of this study 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.
“This is something that needs to be closely examined by both clinical and support services.”
Teri Devine, Director of RNID Scotland added: “Research shows that stress can be a trigger for tinnitus or make it worse. Some people find that tinnitus makes them feel stressed and anxious, so both go hand in hand.
“We have heard from our communities that self-isolation, uncertainty about the future, and fear of contracting COVID-19 have led to more stress – and in some cases, worsened tinnitus.”
The study has further indicated that 46% of UK respondents believe that their tinnitus is being made worse by social-distancing measures introduced to help control the spread of the virus.
“Not being able to meet people in person and having to spend hours on Zoom calls makes it a lot more difficult as well”, Miss Walker added.
“I constantly have to turn up the volume in these calls to make sure I can hear, but then that makes my tinnitus a lot worse, because it’s influenced by loud noises.
“Being at home all the time in silence also makes me more aware of my condition, because without background noise, this white static buzzing is all I hear so I have to find something to distract me and take me away from it.”
The increasing use of masks to prevent the spread of the virus also means that people with hearing impairments can no longer rely on reading lips as often.
Like many others, Miss Walker uses a hearing aid, which helps to balance the sound between both ears.
Yesterday, North East Sensory Services (Ness) announced that a new initiative in partnership with NHS Grampian’s audiology department has supported 66 people with hearing loss in the area during the pandemic.
The charity’s “Hear 2 Help Express” was launched in July to help with cleaning and maintaining the support devices for people with hearing impairments, who otherwise could have been forced to wait seven days for their aids to be properly cleaned because of coronavirus restrictions.
Anyone, who wants tinnitus advice and support, can contact RNID’s free Tinnitus Helpline on 0808 808 6666 , text 07800 000360 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.