If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t use ear protection, you may experience hearing loss later in life. Hearing loss might be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These hearing loss causes are fairly common. But there’s a new fighter in the ring, 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 last couple of years may also lead to hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very novel virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it every day. There is some research which indicates 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: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently 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 blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for lunch.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for most individuals. Talk with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is generally permanent?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should point out, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They can both be relevant!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first substantial theory among scientists is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. This might result in hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will normally return to normal (this wouldn’t be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. The consequence is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears happens because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be generally permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unclear, 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 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 about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their body. Sometimes, people will experience a mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that drags on for months (or longer). There’s no question, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure 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 discovered:
- 7.6% of people reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
Whether these auditory problems 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 variety of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one single story. When scientists are trying to develop a treatment strategy, these individual stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is key here.
As scientists obtain more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly widespread, they’re able to create a clearer understanding of the hazards related to Covid-19.
We certainly need to learn more. Research is ongoing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still important that you seek out treatment as soon as possible. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to schedule an appointment.