Thousands of people say they have developed tinnitus after being vaccinated against Covid. Although there is no proof yet that the vaccines caused the disease, theories about a possible link have surfaced among researchers.
Shaowen Bao, an associate professor in the department of physiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, believes that persistent inflammation, particularly in the brain or spinal cord, may be to blame.
Bao, a longtime sufferer of tinnitus and a representative of the Scientific Advisory Board of the American Tinnitus Association, has studied tinnitus for more than a decade.
A Facebook group of people who developed tinnitus after receiving a Covid vaccine convinced Bao to look into the possible link. He eventually interviewed 398 of the group’s participants.
The cases tended to be severe. A man told Bao that he couldn’t hear the car radio because of the noise in his head while he was driving.
In addition to ringing in the ears, participants reported a range of other symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, vertigo, ear pain, anxiety and depression. Many more people first developed tinnitus after the first dose of the vaccine, compared to the second.
This suggests “that the vaccine interacts with pre-existing risk factors for tinnitus. If you have the risk factor, you’ll likely get it from the first dose,” Bao said.
It is still analyzing the results and has not published any preliminary findings.
Is there a link between vaccines and tinnitus?
As of Sunday, at least 16,183 people had filed complaints with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they had developed tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, after receiving a Covid vaccine.
After internal reviews of the reports, the CDC “found no data to suggest a link between Covid-19 vaccines and tinnitus,” an agency spokesperson said in an email.
The CDC, however, has not made these reviews public, as it did after considering other possible side effects of the vaccine, such as inflammation of the heart or myocarditis – frustrating leading vaccine expert Dr. Gregory Poland, Founder and Vaccine Director of Mayo Clinic. Research group in Rochester, Minnesota.
“Why didn’t the CDC do all the research it should do on this and publish it?” says Poland.
Poland, which was stricken with tinnitus after receiving its Covid shots two years ago, suggested the CDC remain “indifferent” to such reports of tinnitus.
In his case, the noise sounds like a constant, shrill hiss. The noise has not improved and continues to affect his sleep and quality of life.
“There are days when I’m busy or when I haven’t been exposed to too much noise, when it’s tolerable. Other days I could just scream,” he said.
Since speaking publicly about his experience, Poland has received “almost daily” emails from foreigners who say they experience the same constant noises and believe it was triggered by Covid vaccines.
“You never recover from tinnitus,” he said.
What makes the human brain evoke sounds that affect a person’s daily life?
A team from the Stanford Medicine Molecular Neurotology Laboratory in California has begun studies to find the potential underlying mechanism of tinnitus. The goal is to find a biomarker that could help identify someone at higher risk of developing tinnitus after receiving a vaccine.
“We believe that many forms of tinnitus reflect damage in the inner ear,” said Dr. Konstantina Stankovic, an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon who leads the new research. “And then the brain tries to compensate for the damage and starts making its own sound,” she said.
The study is in its early stages. Stankovic’s team has collected blood samples from less than 20 patients so far.
“We may not find anything,” she said. “Or it could be a home run. We just don’t know. We are working as hard as possible to answer these questions. »
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is common in the United States, affecting up to 25% of adults, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Children can also develop the disease.
It is a phantom noise in one person’s ear, which means that no one else can hear what the patient hears.
There are many potential causes, including age-related hearing loss, certain medications, ear infections, and high blood pressure. The CDC’s vaccine adverse event reporting system has also received reports of tinnitus after other vaccines and infections, including Covid.
“It is not surprising that the CDC receives reports of tinnitus in the vaccine adverse event reporting system following vaccination, including vaccination against COVID-19,” a CDC spokesperson said in an email.
Although a study published last fall found that the risk of tinnitus after receiving the Covid vaccine is “low”, that does not mean that it is non-existent.
Poland believes the virus’ spike protein may play a role, in the same way it could continue to wreak havoc on the body in other ways.
“After mRNA vaccines, there’s some level of spike protein that’s going around,” Poland said. Could it be a bit like the spike protein in the heart that leads to myocarditis? Could the same thing happen in the inner ear?”
Researchers at Yale University have started recruiting study participants to learn more about the symptoms of long Covid, including tinnitus.
“There is heterogeneity in the manifestations of long Covid,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, professor of medicine at Yale University and a long Covid clinical researcher. “We really need to be able to map that out and organize it in a way that we can understand it.”
Anecdotally, people have long been reporting a link between Covid infection and strange tingling or buzzing in different parts of their body. Krumholz speculates that tinnitus may be caused by internal vibrations in the ear.
“The strategy we adopt is both to listen very carefully to the experience of people who are suffering and to try to correlate their experiences with what is happening inside their body,” he said. . “These people are suffering.”
How to deal with ghost sounds
There is no diagnostic test for tinnitus, but experts suggest consulting an ear, nose, and throat specialist first to rule out any underlying causes of ringing in the ears, such as an infection in the ears. ear or high blood pressure.
Otherwise, there is no standard, proven way to treat tinnitus.
Poland, who is also a minister, finds meditative prayer helpful in quieting the noise. He also listens to soothing classical music or “orange noise” in his air pods.
“Then I can relax,” Poland said. “I actually visualize a volume button that reduces that noise. It’s still an effort, but it helps, at least temporarily.”
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This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com