Researchers have discovered that COVID-19, an antibiotic known for treating cystic fibrosis, can infect both cells and viruses in the middle ear in the same ear.
They are now hoping to develop a treatment which would prevent it from damaging the tissue.
The UK scientists say the infection risks a long-term future for a condition which affects 5,000 people in the UK, and a further 400,000 in the US.
The team of researchers, from the University of Manchester, published their research in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The researchers’ lead, Professor Neil Ormerod, said: “Our findings suggest that COVID-19, an antibiotic known for treating cystic fibrosis, can infect both cells and viruses in the middle ear in the same ear.
“This is extremely important as the infection could lead to long-term hearing loss.”
He added: “The door is now open for the development of a new treatment. It’s too early to say how exactly this infection works but we’re confident we can translate our findings into a treatment.”
To their surprise, the researchers found that COVID-19 grows out of the cells of the ear that sit between the lobes.
It then causes the cells to form a long, fragile, porous microtome, which allows cells to become infectious.
The tiny but important ducts in the middle ear which will always be closed completely, so giving a person sound hearing, are wide open to infection, the researchers found.