You may develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss might be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without hearing protection. These hearing loss causes are rather common. But there’s a new fighter in the ring, and you can most likely 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 might also lead to hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being discovered constantly by scientists. 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 information to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine trigger 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 presently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t affect your ears at all. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how does this trigger hearing loss? Particularly, how does it trigger the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Scientists have a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 produces inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation ultimately impacts your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. There are two ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. In these instances, your hearing will usually go back to normal after your symptoms subside (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. The result is damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can in some cases cause damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be effectively permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is unknown, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a bit murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more corroborated with regards to patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely heard about.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Sometimes, people will experience a mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory complications resulting from Covid-19. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t really clear, but it’s safe to say there’s some kind of relationship. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s narrative. When researchers are attempting to devise a treatment plan, these individual accounts, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for researchers to go on. So research is key here.
As researchers obtain more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively extensive, they’re able to create a clearer understanding of the hazards associated with Covid-19.
We undoubtedly need to understand more. Research is continuing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still important that you get treatment as soon as you can. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it once was, give us a call to schedule an appointment.