You might develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently 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 past few years, a new cause has entered the fray. 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 might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. 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 triggered by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: There’s utterly no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently approved and obtainable vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like consuming a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it caused your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still vastly surpass the risks for the majority of people. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? 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?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first substantial theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. There are two ways this might cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to build up. Once the symptoms subside, your hearing will usually go back to normal (this would not be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to replicate. The outcome is 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 would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unknown, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant when it comes to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended with regards to cause and effect. At this point, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are dealing with Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing problems was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- 7.6% of people reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t really clear, but it’s safe to say there’s some kind of relationship. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s narrative. When researchers are trying to devise a treatment strategy, these individual accounts, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is critical here.
As scientists unearth more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively prevalent, they’re able to establish a clearer image of the hazards involving Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to understand. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is continuing. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still crucial that you get treatment as soon as you can. So give us a call if you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss.