If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Hearing loss might be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without hearing protection. These are fairly common and well known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new fighter in the ring, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
People throughout the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. And something new about it is being discovered constantly by scientists. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat preliminary and is still waiting for more facts to back it up. So let’s have a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this off the table right away: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it caused your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For most people, the risks are vastly outweighed by the advantages. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is typically permanent?
Well, there are a couple of theories. 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 impacts your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. There are a couple of ways this could lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to build up. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will usually return to normal (this wouldn’t be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to remember that viruses reproduce by taking over 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 links between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes be helpful. Scientists are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. It’s not clear, based on this research, exactly how much protection vaccines give you against this kind of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second theory is a little murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their body. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. The review discovered that:
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t really clear, but it’s safe to say there’s a relationship of some kind. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one individual narrative. When researchers are trying to devise a treatment strategy, these personal stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is essential here.
As scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively prevalent, they’re able to generate a clearer understanding of the hazards associated with Covid-19.
We definitely have to understand more. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. It’s important to get help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to schedule an appointment.