If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t use ear protection, you may experience hearing loss later in life. Hearing loss may be in your future, for instance, if you work on a loud factory floor without hearing protection. These are fairly common and well known causes of hearing loss. But within the past few years, a new cause has entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s right, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years may also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. There is some research which suggests that hearing loss could be a potential side effect of Covid-19, but more research still needs to be done to back this up. So let’s take a look at where things stand right now.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So, let’s get this out of the way right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and obtainable vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That just isn’t how these vaccines work, they don’t affect your ears at all. It would be like consuming a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. For the majority of people, the risks are vastly outweighed by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to speak with your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So, how can Covid trigger hearing loss?
But, how can this cause hearing loss? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is generally permanent?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 produces inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the concept is that this inflammation eventually affects 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: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. In these cases, your hearing will usually go back to normal once your symptoms clear up (if this occurs, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to remember that viruses replicate by hijacking your body’s own cells. The result is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases result in damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes be helpful. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. At this point, you’ve probably heard of something called Long Covid.
People 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 drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists still aren’t sure precisely what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that evaluated data about long-term auditory difficulties caused by Covid-19. The review found that:
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t very clear, but it’s safe to say there’s some kind of relationship. A host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for scientists to go on when developing treatment plans. That’s why research is so crucial.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively extensive, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the hazards associated with 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. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still important that you seek out treatment as soon as you can. So give us a call if you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss.