If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss later in life. Hearing loss may be in your future, for example, if you work on a loud factory floor without ear protection. These are pretty common and well recognized causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years might also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely novel virus. And scientists are learning something new about it every day. There is some research which suggests that hearing loss may be a potential side effect of Covid-19, but more research still needs to be done to back this up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine trigger hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to bear in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for lunch.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. For most people, the risks are vastly exceeded by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Particularly, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among scientists is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately affect your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. This may result in hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will typically return to normal (if this occurs, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. The consequence is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases result in damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be effectively permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is caused by inflammation. Researchers are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. It’s not clear, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this type of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a little murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more substantiated in terms of patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
People will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Sometimes, patients will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing problems was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review found:
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t very clear, but it goes without saying there’s some kind of relationship. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when someone states that their hearing has been off since they got Covid. It’s one individual narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for scientists to go on when devising treatment guidance. That’s why research is so crucial.
As researchers obtain more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively prevalent, they’re able to create a clearer understanding of the dangers associated with Covid-19.
We definitely need to learn more. Research is ongoing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still crucial that you seek treatment as soon as you can. So give us a call if you think you might be developing hearing loss.