You're More Likely to Have This Symptom With the Delta Variant, Doctors Say
This painful symptom isn't new, but it's now being reported more often among COVID patients.
The Delta variant has changed the pandemic exponentially. The more contagious strain has not only shifted the trajectory of the virus, but also altered some of the more common symptoms. While we became familiar with the most frequently reported signs of COVID early in the pandemic—cough, fever, body aches, among others—we are now adjusting to a newer iteration of the virus that may present differently.
Several doctors told WFLA, an NBC affiliate, that COVID patients are now reporting earaches more frequently than they had before. People are coming in believing they have a run-of-the-mill earache or ear infection, but then end up testing positive for COVID. Nicole Frommann, MD, medical director for TGH Urgent Care in Florida, told WFLA that this is one of the ways the Delta variant is distinctive from the previously dominant Alpha variant.
"The reason we are seeing earaches more often is because sore throat is so prominent [with the Delta variant], and the earache is coming from [the] sore throat," Frommann explained. She added that COVID-related earaches are "usually associated with other symptoms, especially sore throat."
Kathleen Mullane, DO, PharmD, a professor at the University of Chicago Medicine, has seen similar cases. "One unusual finding that we've seen is there are more people complaining of ear pain, which is different from the initial coronavirus infection," she wrote.
While doctors are seeing earaches more often with the Delta variant, the symptom has been reported before as a result of earlier variants. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't list earache as a common symptom of COVID, plenty of people who have tested positive for the virus have reported it. Thomas Russo, MD, a professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo, told Prevention back in January that earaches could definitely be linked to COVID.
Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician and health advisor for Invigor Medical, previously told Best Life that earaches tend to occur due to "infected fluid behind the eardrum," which is the result of nasal and sinus congestion, both of which are common Delta variant symptoms.
COVID has ravaged some patients' ears in other ways, both before and during the spread of Delta. In June, Bloomberg reported that patients in India—where the Delta variant was dominant at the time—were experiencing hearing loss when they got the virus. Additionally, a study published by Frontiers in Public Health in Nov. 2020 found that COVID made tinnitus, a common condition that causes a ringing, roaring, clocking, hissing, or buzzing sound in your ears, worse in some patients.
According to Mullane, other common symptoms of the Delta variant include cough, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, and fever. She notes that for vaccinated people, a Delta variant infection tends to manifest "like a mild upper respiratory illness with a cough, headache, sore throat and some muscle aches that are short-lasting."
On Aug. 10, Wesley Willeford, MD, Medical Director of Disease Control for the Jefferson County Department of Health in Alabama, told WBRC that with the Delta variant, "you're a little be more likely to have a sore throat, more likely to have sinus congestion, and a little bit more likely to have a runny nose." All of these more common symptoms could lead to an earache.