If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t use hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Likewise, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are pretty 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 correct, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of actually understanding Covid-19. And scientists are discovering something new about it all the time. There is some research which indicates 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 where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine produce hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: There’s utterly no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine triggers hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and obtainable vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like consuming a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it caused your diabetes.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly surpass the risks for the majority of individuals. Talk with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Particularly, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is typically irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of theories. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among scientists is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately affect your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all linked. This may cause hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels smaller, making it harder for fluid to get out or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. In these circumstances, your hearing will typically return to normal after your symptoms clear up (if this occurs, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to remember that viruses replicate by taking over your body’s own cells. The result is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears occurs 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 often be helpful. Researchers are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. How much protection from this sort of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unknown, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a little murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more corroborated in terms of patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which people experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Sometimes, people will experience a mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that drags on for months (or longer). Scientists are still unsure just what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that evaluated data about long-term auditory problems resulting from Covid-19. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
Whether these auditory difficulties 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. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one single story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t necessarily enough for researchers to go on when developing treatment plans. So research is critical here.
Scientists will be able to get a clearer understanding about the hazards of Covid as they accumulate more data about how widespread these difficulties are.
We certainly have to learn more. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is continuing. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still important that you get treatment as soon as possible. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it once was, call us to schedule an appointment.