You might develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Similarly, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t use ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s right, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it all the time. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected 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 here’s the first thing to remember: There’s utterly no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine causes 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 eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it caused 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 surpass the risks for most individuals. Speak with your doctor and seek reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Specifically, how does it cause the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be relevant!
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 affect your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. There are a couple of ways this might trigger hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. In these situations, your hearing will typically go back to normal after your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Remember that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to replicate. This can cause damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular links 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 basically irreversible.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. Researchers are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss due to cell damage. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is unclear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant in regards to patients’ experience, but a bit less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. 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 drags on for months (or longer). There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure why.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t entirely clear, but it’s safe to say there’s a relationship of some kind. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing has been off since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t necessarily enough for researchers to go on when devising treatment plans. That’s why research is so critical.
As scientists unearth more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively extensive, they’re able to establish a clearer picture of the dangers related to Covid-19.
We definitely need to understand 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 essential that you get treatment as soon as possible. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to schedule an appointment.