Study finds hearing loss and tinnitus common in patients with tick-borne diseases

A new study finds that the majority of patients with tick-borne diseases admitted to an outpatient otolaryngological clinic in Poland suffered from hearing loss and tinnitus. In the article, “Otolaryngological symptoms in patients treated for tick-borne diseases,” Sowula and colleagues from Jagiellonian University in Krakow review the records of 216 patients, ages 18-55, who were evaluated in their clinic for tick-borne diseases between 2014 and 2016. [1]


by Daniel J. Cameron, MD, MPH

In Europe, the most common tick-borne diseases are Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. However, “in recent years the number of infections caused by pathogens from Bartonella, Babesia, Anaplasma, Brucella and other species has also been increasing,” writes Sowula. This study looked at not only the prevalence of otolaryngological symptoms in patients with Lyme disease, but in those with other tick-transmitted illnesses, as well.

According to the authors, three fourths of the 216 patients diagnosed with a tick-borne disease experienced otolaryngological symptoms. “The most common complaint was tinnitus (76.5%) accompanied by vertigo and dizziness (53.7%), headache (39%), and unilateral sensorineural hearing loss (16.7%),” writes Sowula.

The patients also reported symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia (a chronic pain condition affecting the trigeminal nerve in the face), hearing hypersensitivity, facial nerve paralysis, toothaches, tongue paresthesias, and smell hypersensitivity.

Furthermore, the authors found that these patients were frequently infected with Bartonella. “The largest group included patients infected with bacteria of the Bartonella henselae (33.4%) and Bartonella quintana (13%) species,” Sowula states.

A smaller study conducted in the Unites States in 1990 also examined the prevalence of otolaryngological symptoms, specifically in Lyme disease patients. The study, led by Logigian from the Department of Neurology and Medicine at Tufts University of Medicine found that 4 out of 27 patients, ages 35-67, with chronic neurologic Lyme disease presented with hearing loss and tinnitus. [2]

“In all four, the hearing loss was apparent on physical examination, and in the two patients tested, audiometry testing confirmed a mild, high frequency, sensorineural hearing loss,” writes Logigian.

Study finds 76% of patients with tick-borne diseases have hearing loss and tinnitus. Click To Tweet

In both studies, patients’ symptoms improved after treatment with intravenous ceftriaxone. One of the four patients described by Logigian and colleagues continued to have a unilateral hearing loss. When making treatment decisions, Sowula and colleagues considered the presence of Bartonella spp in their patients and suggested a combination of antibiotics. “It also seems that using combined treatment may be helpful (e.g. third-generation cefalosporin + Rifampicin, alternatively fluorochinolone).”



  1. Sowula K, Skladzien J, Szaleniec J, Gawlik J. Otolaryngological symptoms in patients treated for tick-borne diseases. Otolaryngol Pol. 2018;72(1):30-34.
  2. Logigian EL, Kaplan RF, Steere AC. Chronic neurologic manifestations of Lyme disease. N Engl J Med. 1990;323(21):1438-1444.

23 Replies to "Study finds hearing loss and tinnitus common in patients with tick-borne diseases"

  • Karin Van Norstrand
    04/11/2018 (12:16 am)

    Yep, that’s me. Diagnosed with Babesiosis and Lymes. Have been on antibiotics for 5 weeks last summer, and than again for almost 3 weeks earlier this year. Have to cut my hrs at work due to residual symptoms. Ringing in ears started abt 5 weeks ago.

  • J Stirr
    04/11/2018 (4:53 am)

    I was on intravenous ceftriaxone for 11 months and started experiencing tinnitus in my 8th or 9th month of treatment…any explanation???
    I still have tinnitus, headaches/migraines, occasional blurred vision, sharp noise issues however have to watch TV as much higher volume than others in the family, aching teeth/sore jaw and cracked tongue with sensivity issues to heat and spicy food and hyper to smells…
    Willing to be guinea pig to determine why I still have these symptoms after treatment 9 yrs later

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      04/11/2018 (12:48 pm)

      I shared the latest research in my All Things Lyme blog to highlight what we don’t know. There are other antibiotics than IV. It is important to see a doctor to rule out other illnesses if that has not been done.

      • Marlene Tallent
        06/04/2018 (1:31 pm)

        I’ve not been diagnosed with Lyme but am sure that’s what I have. I have been living in Maine for 20 years and have been bitten at least 3 times. The ticks were engorged by the time I found them on the back of my leg and one on my back. I did not have a bulls eye rash. Went to the doctors and they put me on doxycycline for a few days. The Lyme tests always came back negative. Before moving to Maine I lived in Connecticut. I remember one summer seeing a an odd rash on my thigh. Thought nothing of it. I was sick all the time with odd headaches, neck pain, blurry vision, etc. Anyway 15 years ago I experienced vertigo, constant sinusitis, TMJ and after having what was a bad virus came down with tinnitus which has persisted for the last 15 years. It started as a hissing and has progressed to other undesirable sounds. I have sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, had tubes put in both ears, had septoplasty, have recently been tested for allergies (allergic to tree pollens, grass, ragweed, mold, dust mites, cockroaches, ). Been receiving allergy shots since last September with no improvement yet. In fact my sysmptoms have worsened. I have insomnia, odd twitches throughout my body, fatigue, anxiety, pain on top of both feet, neck and shoulder pain which started in March after I had some kind of bite on my shin that looked like maybe a spider bite. A red bump. After 2 weeks a small red circle surrounded it. I thought it was a spider bite as I remember driving one day and feeling something bite me. I always tell myself that I live in hell. The tinnitus, insomnia, twitches, odd creepy feelings that run up the back of my head,. Also I remember that at the base of my skull the muscles hurt bad and I just wanted to dig into them and that was followed by an awful headache and numbness on one side of my jaw. I am at a loss…. sometimes I feel as if I could kill myself because the doctors here are not experienced with Lyme and would tell me that I have nothing or MS or Lupus which I’m sure I don’t. I feel for everyone who has tinnitus. Dr. Cameron please help me.

        • Dr. Daniel Cameron
          06/04/2018 (6:48 pm)

          I am equally frustrated by how little we know on tinnitus and hearing loss in Lyme disease. I was happy to write about the findings of the most recent study.

        • Joyce A Fortin
          02/12/2019 (8:52 pm)

          Marlene, you are describing my symptoms to a “T”. How did it turn out for you? I’m about to see a doc soon and will request a blood test. I’m positive it is Lyme having been bit on the back of my neck about 3 months ago. Didn’t think anything of it until the neck pain, which moved to shoulders and then back…then the tinnitus. I hope it worked out for you and you found some relief.

  • LL
    04/11/2018 (10:30 am)

    Diagnosed with Menieres years before Lyme/Bartonella diagnosis. Tinnitus began decades before that! Had irretractable vertigo and “drop attacks”, which led to two procedures on rt ear to kill the balance nerve (and hearing 🙁 ).
    Hearing aids in both ears now. Still have loud Tinnitus. Lyme in remission after seven years of treatment!

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      04/11/2018 (12:45 pm)

      We need more research in this area. Thanks your sharing your case.

  • Buffie LaRocca
    04/11/2018 (5:55 pm)

    yep…” bilateral meniers” and never ending roaring tinitis. I would like to see if it is realated to all the abx though. Is it the infections or the years of multiple abx that have caused it. I would love more research and to be able to participate in a trial about this. It is my most dibilitating sypmtom for sure. have stopped driving bc of hearing and balance, I could possibly handle the rest of my symptoms and still work, but this put me into disability. I want to solve it and get back to life!!

  • Lisa
    07/01/2018 (3:54 am)

    My tinnitus is increasing sharply over past 6-8 months. Diagnosed with Lyme in 2010. This is the least bothersome of my symptoms though. The others are debilitating.

  • Andrew Martin
    08/10/2018 (6:33 pm)

    I have had neural Lyme Disease since 1997. I was first diagnosed with MS and then was later diagnosed with Transverse Myleitus and MS dx was dropped. Symptoms partially cleared for TM over the course of 2-5 years but I still have some residual symptoms, numbness on face and forehead, sometimes on hand or tips of fingers, toes or shins. Beginning last December I began to experience, first a pop in my right ear followed by fullness and then vertigo and tinnitus with significant hearing loss. Now I have just the tinnitus and hearing loss in the mid and upper range. Could this be a symptom of the neural Lyme or is it something else?

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      08/10/2018 (9:39 pm)

      You should include a tick borne evaluation in you evaluation

  • Linda Braydon
    10/13/2018 (1:10 am)

    It’s pitiful that there are so many of us who cannot Avail ourselves of alternative methods of testing for lack of money.

  • Rebecca
    10/13/2018 (11:59 am)

    My husband had Lyme 15 years ago and has just
    Recently suffered bilateral hearing loss with tinnitus and aural pressure. His MRI was clear, tried course or oral abx , 6 weeks of prednisone . No improvement noted. Would be be a candidate
    For IV abx?

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      10/14/2018 (12:06 pm)

      Four of 27 patients presenting with chronic neurologic Lyme disease in the 1990 New England Journal of Medicine had hearing problems. The authors did not described the outcome. I would look a second time at a tick borne illness along with your husband’s other specialists to try and find an answer.

  • Debbie M.
    10/16/2018 (11:00 am)

    After a few months of mild vertigo, I lost almost all hearing in one ear, suddenly in 2011. Following my DX of atypical Meniere’s disease, I eventually learned I tested positive for Lyme disease (positive PCR but negative Western blot), borellia miyamotoi, anaplasmosis and chronic form of brucellosis. I have had years of multiple antibiotic and herbal treatments with LLMD’s, including IV rocephin and clindamycin. I still suffer from deafness in one ear with tinnitus in both, that is of a very different quality. I hear whooshing and low electronic sounds in my deaf ear and high pitched ringing in my good ear. Despite long term antibiotic treatment, I have many annoying symptoms that include pain and pressure in my face, teeth, jaw and sinuses. My head has many odd sensations that can be quite frightening. It often feels and sounds as though my head is a short wave radio being tuned or a pressure cooker letting steam out slowly. I just pray that my good ear will not be attacked by this awful disease.

    11/05/2018 (6:35 pm)

    I am currently waiting for lab results for Lyme. I thought I had been tested a long time ago and found out Friday I have never been tested and live in NH and at a campground 6 months out the year. Began vertigo and other symptoms nearly 2 yrs ago and then a rear end car accident the end of 2017. Jan 2018 woke up with sensorineural hearing loss and have tinnitus and severe balance problems but also joint related issues with legs, speech difficulties, left facial and tongue numbness, knee problems periodically, night sweats last year (thought it was menopause) neck and shoulder problems since last year and have been to every kind of Doctor there is and numerous tests/MRI’s and still no proper diagnosis. I just had balance testing and results normal so the 3 diagnosis for Vestibular now ruled out, not neurological after 2 different neurologist; one at MA General in Boston. I am praying its Lyme disease just to finally have a diagnosis and a chance to get better, if its negative I have no idea what to do next.

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      11/05/2018 (7:25 pm)

      I am glad you have had such a thorough evaluation. The Lyme disease tests are not as reliable as I would like. Yu may have to use clinical judgment.

      • SHERRY
        11/05/2018 (8:29 pm)

        Thanks for responding,. I was given the Western Blot test. If it comes out negative what would you suggest I ask my Doctor to do, I am at a loss after this test. I have no idea what type of Doctor to seek out next and my Primary care Doctor has not been helpful at all.

        • Dr. Daniel Cameron
          11/05/2018 (11:46 pm)

          Doctors are divided over their approach. You may have to pursue a second opinion. Call my office at 914 666 4665 to see if we can help you. You may also have to see specialists to rule out other illnesses.

  • Mark
    12/28/2018 (3:54 pm)

    From my personal experience Lyme associated diseases definitely can effect hearing. I’ve been a musician and avid audiophile for many decades and spent years “training” my ears to be able to hear subtle differences. Since getting bitten by a tick, developing a bullseye rash and getting very ill I have experienced painful distortion triggered by loud high pitched sounds. I had never experienced anything like this until getting Lyme disease. After extensive treatment for Lyme and associated diseases my sensitivity to loud high pitched sound has substantially abated. I am thankful that there are SOME doctors with an understanding of how devastating Lyme and associated diseases can be.

    01/19/2019 (11:21 pm)

    In June of 2018 I stared getting some mild tinnitus and dizziness. After runnning a marathon type race through the mountains in September I got the flu for 5 days. After that my symptoms spiraled out of control to the point of near death. I tested negative for lyme and positive for babesia. I begged a doc to treatment with antis and was hospitalized for a week. I did two weeks on ceftriaxone and am on my second month of doxy. I am also just starting a 10 day course for babeisa (pills and liquid). Many things have improved but the dizziness, head pressure, and loud non-stop tinnitus really have not have not. I’m worried it could be something else but all my tests, including a PET, have come back negative. I have had elevated ESR and CRP for months although they have come down. I also have some intermittent focal slowing in my EEG. I am a 40 year old male. Any thoughts?

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      01/20/2019 (1:13 am)

      I am not so sure 10 days is so effective if started weeks or months after onset. The 10 day protocol for Babesia enrolled patients early in their illness. They have not yet studied the ideal length of time for Babesia. I often need to treat Babesia longer for patients who are ill longer. Two weeks of intravenous ceftriaxone was not as good as four weeks in the initially Logigian articles for neurologic Lyme disease. I have a few patients with a high ESR. The number drops as they improve. I am glad you looked into other illnesses.

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