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 wear hearing protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These hearing loss causes are fairly common. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s right, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also lead to hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely novel virus. And scientists are learning something new about it all the time. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more facts 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 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 available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. 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 advantages of these vaccines still greatly surpass the risks for most people. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Well, there are a couple of theories. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 causes inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all linked. There are a couple of ways this might lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain properly. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to build up. In these situations, your hearing will typically go back to normal once your symptoms subside (if this occurs, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to remember that viruses reproduce by hijacking your body’s own cells. The consequence is damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears occurs because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes be helpful. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s not clear, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this kind of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a bit murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. By now, you’ve probably heard of something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their body. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
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:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to 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.
Anecdote or evidence?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one individual narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t actually enough for researchers to go on when devising treatment plans. So research is critical here.
Scientists will be able to get a clearer understanding about the dangers of Covid as they accumulate more data about how widespread these difficulties are.
Of course, there’s still more to understand. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. It’s important to seek help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, give us a call to make an appointment.