There is more than a 50 per cent surge in people suffering from ear, nose and throat infections across Mumbai. According to doctors, ENT cases had dropped during the initial days of Covid-19 due to the nationwide lockdown but now, city OPDs are seeing at least 30 to 40 walk-ins daily, complaining of ENT problems.
Doctors said in one year, the number of patients complaining of such problems has increased by 50 per cent and it could possibly be attributed to the Covid-19 virus. Just as Covid patients lose their sense of taste, the virus may also affect the inner ear and in severe cases, might cause hearing loss.
Ear, nose and throat (ENT) issues are common in both adults and children. The issues may crop up in various forms, including the inability to hear properly, hoarseness, ear pain, vertigo, sinus infections, and more.
Doctors say they are treating around 40-45 patients a month. In the case of those with otic issues, they say it is essential to get prompt treatment and protect against further damage to the ears. Limiting exposure to loud noise, maintaining good ear hygiene and no self-medicating is what doctors advise.
“In the case of ear infection, the main symptoms are that the ear will become red, there is hearing loss, the skin of the ear will become scaly, there will be inflammation and swelling, ringing in the ears, muffled hearing, discharge from the ear and pain. The diagnosis is carried out by examination in the OPD. The treatment includes ear drops and medication. Not treating at the right time could reduce the hearing temporarily due to fungal debris,” said a doctor. “I have been seeing 40 patients a month. Such issues are common in summer and it is not connected to Covid,” said a senior ENT surgeon at a civic-run hospital.
However, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear (a Harvard teaching hospital based in Boston) has recorded evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – can infect the inner ear, including hair cells (cilia) that are critical for hearing and balance. Hair cells are the sensory cells of the auditory system. For their study, researchers used novel cellular models of the human inner ear that they developed and adult human inner ear tissue which is hard to obtain.
“Damage to cochlear hair cells, which can cause hearing loss, is usually evaluated by measuring otoacoustic emissions — sounds given off by sensory hair cells as they respond to auditory stimulation. Among the six Covid-19 patients in the study who underwent this testing, all had reduced or absent otoacoustic emissions,” a media statement said.
Dr Bhavika Verma Bhatt, Assistant Professor, Department of ENT, D Y Patil University School of Medicine, Nerul, Navi Mumbai and Medical Consultant, ENTOD Pharmaceutical said there was a 50 per cent dip in ENT cases reported in the thick of the pandemic, as people were hesitant to step outside for fear of infection and because of restrictions imposed by the government. Cases of decreased hearing or hearing loss are not unusual post-Covid, she said. The number of ENT cases came back to almost 80 per cent as the first wave ebbed as people began venturing outside following the easing of restrictions and the launch of the vaccination drive in India.
“However, the number of ENT cases again fell during the second wave. Though studies have pointed out that Covid-19 can cause auditory and balance problems, the overall percentage of Covid-19 patients who have experienced ear-related issues is not known. Presently, patients have resumed their visits to the OPD and consulting the ENTs. Also, post-Diwali, some deaths of double-vaccinated middle-aged individuals was also observed,” she said.
Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat many of these ENT problems. However, these may do more harm than good, especially if they are orally administered. Therefore, proper selection of antibiotics for ENT infections or diseases is crucial. Oral antibiotics are likely to lead to antimicrobial resistance – a serious health threat facing our world today, and foster the creation of ‘superbugs’.
“These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause a number of serious health problems like urinary tract infections, gonorrhea, tuberculosis and it becomes difficult to treat these infections as antibiotics become less effective. Instead of oral antibiotics, ear drops are a much safer option as they don’t go into the bloodstream and more medicine reaches the infection area,” said Nikkhil K Masurkar, executive director, ENTOD Pharmaceuticals.