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This COVID Side Effect Drove Texas Roadhouse CEO to Suicide

Tinnitus can be a symptom of Long COVID, and be relentless.

Texas Roadhouse founder and CEO Kent Taylor died on Thursday, at age 65, by his own hand. "After a battle with post-Covid related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life this week," his family said. "Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was, but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable." What happened is a tragedy. And as a doctor, I know it signifies how seriously we must take Long COVID syndrome. It must be tackled with dramatic research funds to avoid this from ever happening again.

Post-COVID Symptoms Like Tinnitus Need to Be Taken Seriously

The coronavirus has now been linked to many long-term complications, like lung damage, but there are several reports of psychiatric and neurological disorders, too. There's even an official term for it: post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

Developing hearing loss or tinnitus as a complication of COVID-19 infection is not thought to be expected, but some patients can develop later. The full scientific explanation is still not fully understood.

Still, back in October 2020, the medical journal BMJ Case Reports published a case study of a 45-year-old British man who developed tinnitus and sudden hearing loss in one ear after he became critically ill with COVID-19. 

Autopsy reports have detected the virus in the middle ear bones. And in this case report, a German man experienced acute, profound hearing loss after developing COVID-19 pneumonia.

Interestingly, a UK survey found that nearly 1 out of 10 coronavirus patients self-reported either hearing loss or tinnitus 8 weeks later. 

In other words, the long-term auditory consequences of coronavirus as well as the understanding of long-term risks, on the audio-vestibular system are not fully understood. We need to dramatically fund research for long COVID. Millions of Americans are suffering in silence today, puzzled and without help.

Why Tinnitus Can Be So Relentless

Tinnitus is a condition in which a person hears sounds that are not perceived externally. It can be a high-pitched piercing like a siren, it can sound like ocean waves, or it can be pulsatile with a beat. 

Many who suffer from tinnitus say it is more noticeable in quiet situations, like trying to sleep, and can drive a person to have unpredictable behaviors. 

The human balance system is complex, and the vestibular system is part of our sense of balance. It involves three major systems working with the brain:

1) Vestibular system, in the inner ear sensors for balance: In the bone behind each ear, we have a set of 5 little sensors, similar to gyroscopes on electronic devices. 

2) Visual system: our vision not only tells the brain what movements we are doing with our head but, more importantly, helps us feel stable when we move our head.

3) Proprioceptive system: a large system in our body consisting of millions of little sensors on our skin and muscles. This gives us the sensation of our body in space. 

These three systems send movement information to balance centers in the brainstem, a part of our brain on the back of the neck. Thus, tinnitus can cause the ringing or high-pitched noise but also a dizzying and disorienting vertigo.

Why Long COVID Can Be So Disruptive

We have been researching this data for less than a year. Still, so far, it suggests that the primary attack of the coronavirus is in the nose, in the nasal epithelium, which is the skinlike layer of cells in charge of expressing odors. 

It seems like the virus assaults support cells and stem cells in the nose, but not neurons directly, which does not mean that neurons cannot be affected. 

These cells maintain the balance and signal the brain. In some patients, when infected with COVID, that balance is disrupted, and that leads to a shutdown of neuronal signaling, and therefore of smell. The cells also provide support to sustain the cilia on the nose where receptors that detect odors are located. If the virus disrupts those cilia, you lose the ability to smell.

Tinnitus is usually caused by an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, an ear injury or a problem with the circulatory system. For many people, tinnitus improves with treatment of the underlying cause or with other treatments that reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable. It affects about 15% to 20% of people, and is especially common in older adults. Now, with Long COVID, it might be more.

What to Do if You Have Tinnitus, Says the CDC

"Make an appointment to see your doctor if:

  • You develop tinnitus after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and your tinnitus doesn't improve within a week.

See your doctor as soon as possible if:

  • You have hearing loss or dizziness with the tinnitus.
  • You are experiencing anxiety or depression as a result of your tinnitus."

And to get through this pandemic without catching coronavirus, don't miss this essential list: Things You Should Never Do Before Your Vaccine

Dr. Leo Nissola, is a Medical Doctor, Immunotherapy Scientist and Medical Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @LeoNissolaMD and on Instagram @DoctorLeo

Leo Nissola, MD
Leo Nissola, M.D. is an award-winning immunologist and scientist. Follow him on Instagram @DoctorLeo and on Twitter @LeoNissolaMD. Read more about Leo