You might 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 ear protection. These hearing loss causes are fairly common. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it every day. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat early and is still waiting for more data to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this off the table right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed 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 affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for dinner.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly surpass the risks for the majority of individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with 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 triggered by this? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They can both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. This may cause 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 harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. Once the symptoms subside, your hearing will typically return to normal (if this occurs, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can result in damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain occurs because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be effectively permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often be helpful. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s not clear, based on this research, exactly how much protection vaccines give you against this type of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. By now, 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. Sometimes, patients will experience a minor 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 still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t entirely clear, but it goes without saying there’s some kind of relationship. A host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Evidence or anecdote?
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 scientists are trying to develop a treatment strategy, these individual accounts, while they are part of day-to-day life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is critical here.
Researchers will be able to get a clearer understanding about the hazards of Covid as they accumulate more data about how widespread these difficulties are.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is ongoing. No matter how you developed hearing loss, however, it’s still important that you get treatment as soon as possible. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it once was, contact us to schedule an appointment.