Is an Earache a Sign of COVID-19?

Here's what you need to know about earaches and COVID-19.

You can probably rattle off most of the common signs and symptoms of COVID-19: fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, loss of taste or smell—but sometimes, those symptoms are only the tip of the iceberg. Some people who have been infected with COVID-19 have also been known to experience other respiratory symptoms (congestion, runny nose, sore throat) and even gastrointestinal woes (diarrhea, nausea, constipation).

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And as variants of the virus started popping up, some people reported symptoms a bit different from the ones we've all come to know. As reported in August 2021 by WFLA, an NBC affiliate in Florida, one such symptom is earaches.

According to the news station, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel revealed that he experienced an earache with his COVID-19 diagnosis during a press conference. "This morning, I woke up with a sore throat and earache, so I went and got tested," Vrabel told reporters. He was eventually given a positive diagnosis for the virus.

So what gives? Can earaches be a COVID-19 symptom—or are they just another typical manifestation of COVID-19's respiratory effects? Here's what you need to know about earaches and COVID-19, according to infectious disease experts.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of COVID-19?

Just as a refresher for what you can expect with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a list of the most common symptoms associated with the virus. While cases can range from mild to severe, people diagnosed with COVID-19 usually have at least some of the following symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The CDC clarified that this is not an exhaustive list, meaning it doesn't provide all of the possible symptoms someone with COVID-19 could have—these are just the most commonly reported as of August 2022.

Is an Earache a Symptom of COVID-19?

It certainly can be. Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Health Security, wouldn't call earaches a common symptom of COVID-19—but said it's not unheard of. "Many respiratory infections, especially those that cause sore throats, can sometimes also cause earaches," Dr. Adalja said.

According to Ellen Wald, MD, an infectious disease physician at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, earaches occur during respiratory infections because of the connection between the nasal passages and the ears. There's a passageway called the eustachian tube that connects the ears and the back of the throat; normally, said Dr. Wald, the tube ventilates the ears and drains fluid from them.

When a person has an upper respiratory infection (which can be triggered by viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19), the nasal passages can drain mucus into the throat. The throat can send fluid up into the eustachian tube. The tube can then get clogged and interfere with the ears' ability to drain fluid—this ultimately causes an earache.

Who Can Get Ear Pain?

Ear pain during any kind of respiratory illness can happen to anyone. Still, Dr. Wald said it's especially common in young children, whose eustachian tubes are smaller and more easily obstructed. In addition to children being more at risk, people who smoke are also at a higher risk of developing problems with their eustachian tubes. Smoking can damage the hairs in the nose that clear mucus, which can cause mucus to build up. Also, people who are obese can have fatty deposits around the eustachian tube.

Are Earaches More Common With the COVID-19 Variants?

While not everyone who has COVID-19 will experience problems with their ears, an earache might be more common with the variants of SARS-CoV-2, including Delta and Omicron, as it seems like they have more upper respiratory tract symptoms, said Taylor Heald-Sargent, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics specializing in infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Can Your Ear Be Infected With COVID-19?

According to Dr. Adalja, in some cases, fluid in the ear during a bout of COVID-19 could also result in an ear infection—but in that case, the ear isn't actually infected with SARS-CoV-2. "Inflammation in the ear can cause secondary bacterial ear infections, just like we see commonly with influenza," said Dr. Adalja.

Additionally, Dr. Heald-Sargent explained that when fluid is stagnant in the ears, it can become infected with bacteria already in the body. In this case, a healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to stave off the bacteria (although it's worth noting that antibiotics don't help with viral illnesses, including COVID-19, influenza, and the common cold.

Is COVID-19 the Cause of Earaches?

Researchers have been trying to figure out, though, if COVID-19 might cause earache in someone sick with the virus. For example, a November 2021 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggested that SARS-CoV-2 can infect inner ear cells.

The researchers observed 10 patients who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 that also experienced hearing loss. In addition to hearing loss, some patients also noted a ringing noise in one or both ears and a sudden spinning sensation called vertigo.

After this observation, the researchers collected inner ear samples from participants who did not have COVID-19. They discovered that the cells from those samples could be infected with SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers feel that their "results point to SARS-CoV-2 infection of the inner ear as a cause of COVID-19-associated hearing and balance issues." However, more research needs to be done.

A Quick Review

It is possible to experience an earache if you are diagnosed with COVID-19. The earache may be caused by COVID-19 itself, or it could be due to the combination of respiratory symptoms you may be experiencing.

Just a reminder, if you experience an earache associated with other respiratory symptoms, such as a runny or congested nose, a headache, cough, or a sore throat—along with any other potential symptoms of the virus—it's worth getting checked out by a healthcare provider and tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control. Variants of the virus.

  2. WFLA. Earache could be new emerging COVID-19 symptom, according to doctors.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19.

  4. American Academy of Family Physicians. Eustachian tube dysfunction.

  5. American Academy of Family Physicians. Eustachian tube dysfunction.

  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Warning: Antibiotics don’t work for viruses like colds and the flu.

  7. National Institutes of Health. SARS-CoV-2 infection of the inner ear.

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