You may develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss may be in your future, for example, 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 disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. And scientists are learning something new about it all the time. There is some research which suggests 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 let’s take a look at where things stand currently.
Does the Covid vaccine produce 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 currently 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 consuming 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 greatly exceed the risks for most individuals. Speak with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So, how does Covid trigger hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is typically permanent?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should point out, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They can both be relevant!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 causes inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation ultimately affects your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. This may produce hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. As this fluid accumulates, hearing becomes difficult. In these situations, your hearing will typically go back to normal once your symptoms clear up (this would not be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to remember that viruses replicate by taking over your body’s own cells. The outcome is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain takes place because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unknown, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this sort of damage, but it seems obvious that it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less comprehended with regards to cause and effect. By now, you’ve most likely heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which people experience symptoms from Covid well 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. There’s no question, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure 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:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t really clear, but it goes without saying there’s some kind of relationship. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Evidence or anecdote?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for researchers to go on when formulating treatment guidance. That’s why research is so crucial.
As scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly widespread, they’re able to create a clearer picture of the risks involving Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to understand. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is ongoing. No matter 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, call us to make an appointment.