You might develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Similarly, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are pretty common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
People all around the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of really understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. 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 where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So, let’s get this off the table right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly exceed the risks for most people. 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 talk about hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is usually permanent?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates 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 connected. There are a couple of ways this might cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it harder for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. After the symptoms subside, your hearing will typically go back to normal (if this takes place, you’re not experiencing 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 ears and your brain takes place because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is caused by inflammation. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this sort 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 in terms of patients’ experience. By now, you’ve most likely heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts 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 researchers and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. 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 story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t actually enough for scientists to go on when developing treatment plans. So research is key here.
As scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively widespread, they’re able to establish a clearer image of the hazards involving Covid-19.
We certainly have to learn more. Research is ongoing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. Regardless of how you developed hearing loss, however, it’s still crucial that you seek out treatment as soon as possible. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it used to be, call us to make an appointment.