You might develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss might be in your future, for example, if you work on a loud factory floor without hearing protection. These hearing loss causes are pretty common. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
People all around the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of completely understanding Covid-19. And scientists are discovering something new about it every day. There is some research which suggests 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 let’s have a look at where things stand at the moment.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine causes 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 eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly exceed the risks for most individuals. Speak to your doctor and seek 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 is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that results from 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
The first substantial theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately affect your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. There are a couple of ways this might trigger hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to build up. In these instances, your hearing will usually return to normal after your symptoms clear up (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to replicate. The outcome is damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can sometimes result in damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unclear, based on this research, exactly how much protection vaccines give you against this type 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 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 patients experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Sometimes, patients will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts 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 difficulties resulting from Covid-19. Here’s what the review found:
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after becoming ill with Covid.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
Whether these auditory problems 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. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when somebody states that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not necessarily enough for scientists to go on when devising treatment plans. So research is key here.
As scientists obtain more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively prevalent, they’re able to establish a clearer understanding of the risks related to Covid-19.
We definitely have to learn more. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still crucial that you get treatment as soon as you can. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it once was, give us a call to schedule an appointment.