Original Research

Cochleovestibular findings linked to COVID-19: A scoping review for clinical care planning in South Africa

Katijah Khoza-Shangase
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 69, No 2 | a899 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v69i2.899 | © 2022 Katijah Khoza-Shangase | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 January 2022 | Published: 12 August 2022

About the author(s)

Katijah Khoza-Shangase, Department of Audiology, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared an outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to be a global health emergency. Research has focused on the impact and response to life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19 across the lifespan; however, there is a need to investigate the effects of COVID-19 on the cochleovestibular system, as viral infections are known to impact this system. This is particularly important for contexts where resources are limited and prioritisation of resources requires strong risk versus benefit evaluations.

Objective: Therefore, the purpose of this scoping review was to investigate published evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on the cochleovestibular system across the lifespan in order to allow for strategic clinical care planning in South Africa, where capacity versus demand challenges exist.

Methods: Electronic bibliographic databases such as CINAHL, EBSCOHost, MEDLINE, ProQuest, PubMed, Scopus and ScienceDirect were searched for peer-reviewed publications between January 2020 and January 2022. These had to be published in English and related to the impact of COVID-19 on the cochleovestibular system, where the question was: ‘what evidence has been published on the impact of COVID-19 on the cochleovestibular system?’ Review selection and characterisation was performed by the researcher with an independent review by a colleague using pretested forms.

Results: Of a total of 24 studies that met the inclusion criteria, the current scoping review revealed limited conclusive published evidence linking COVID-19 to permanent hearing function symptoms. Current evidence supports the possibility of COVID-19, similar to other viral infections in adults, impacting the cochleovestibular system and causing tinnitus, vertigo and sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), with the symptoms being generally temporary and resolving either partially or completely following therapy with steroids, with very inconclusive findings in the paediatric population.

Conclusion: These findings raise global implications for properly designed studies, which include longitudinal follow-up of cases across the lifespan, examining this link with some focus on establishing the pathophysiologic mechanisms at play as well. In the meanwhile, current findings raise the value of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for all patients presenting with unexplained cochleovestibular symptoms during the pandemic, as these may be the only presenting symptoms indicating COVID-19, thus requiring careful treatment and management.


Keywords

audiology; cochleovestibular; clinical; COVID-19; hearing loss; planning; South Africa; steroids; tinnitus; vertigo

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