You may develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Likewise, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss might be in your future. These hearing loss causes are fairly common. But within the past 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 many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it all the time. There is some research which indicates that hearing loss could 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.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine triggers hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That just isn’t 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 vastly outweigh the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to speak with your doctor, and get information 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?
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 irreversible?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can both be relevant!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first substantial theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually affect your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all linked. There are a couple of ways this could lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it harder for fluid to escape or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. After the symptoms subside, your hearing will typically go back to normal (if this occurs, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to replicate. This can result in damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular links 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 generally permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to determine 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 substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less comprehended 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 people experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists still aren’t sure just what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing complications was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review found:
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t entirely clear, but it’s safe to say 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 one single narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t necessarily enough for researchers to go on when devising treatment guidance. So research is critical here.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively prevalent, they’re able to generate a clearer picture of the risks associated with Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to learn. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is continuing. Regardless of how you developed hearing loss, however, it’s still essential that you seek out treatment as soon as possible. So call us if you think you may be developing hearing loss.