You may develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss might be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can probably 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 result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very novel virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it every day. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more facts to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine produce hearing loss?
So, let’s get this off the table right away: There’s utterly 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. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for lunch.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For most people, the risks are vastly outweighed by the advantages. Speak to your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how does Covid cause hearing loss?
But, how can this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. There are two ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels smaller, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to build up. After the symptoms clear up, your hearing will normally return to normal (this would not be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. The result is 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 situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
Steroids are sometimes prescribed when hearing loss is related to inflammation. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is unclear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next theory is more significant when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less understood with regards to cause and effect. At this point, you’ve most likely heard of something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their system. Sometimes, patients will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that drags on 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 researchers and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t really clear, but it’s safe to say there’s some kind of relationship. A variety of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s story. When scientists are trying to develop a treatment plan, these individual stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. That’s why research is so crucial.
As scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly prevalent, they’re able to establish a clearer picture of the risks involving Covid-19.
We definitely need to learn more. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is continuing. It’s essential to seek help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it once was, call us to make an appointment.