You might develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss may be in your future, for instance, 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 fighter in the ring, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s right, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years might also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of really understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being identified all of the time by scientists. 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 let’s have a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine triggers hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That just isn’t how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it caused your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for most people. Speak with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Particularly, how does it trigger the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is normally irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of theories. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 causes inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. There are a couple of ways this might lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels smaller, making it more difficult for fluid to escape or drain efficiently. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. After the symptoms clear up, your hearing will normally return to normal (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to keep in mind that viruses replicate by taking over your body’s own cells. This can result in damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain occurs because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often be helpful. Scientists are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss due to cell damage. It’s not clear, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this type of damage, but it seems obvious that it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next theory is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less understood with regards to cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are dealing with Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no question, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing problems was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review found:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
There’s definitely a connection between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s unknown if there’s a direct cause and effect relationship. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when someone states that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one individual story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for scientists to go on when developing treatment guidance. So research is critical here.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively extensive, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the dangers related to Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to learn. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. Regardless of how you developed hearing loss, however, it’s still crucial that you get treatment as soon as possible. So call us if you suspect you might be developing hearing loss.