If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you may experience hearing loss down the road. Hearing loss may be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These are fairly common and well recognized 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 right, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years might also lead to hearing loss.
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 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.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact 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 applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. For most individuals, the risks are greatly exceeded by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to speak with 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 caused by Covid?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does it trigger the kind 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 mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 produces inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the theory is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, 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 channels more narrow. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to build up. In these situations, your hearing will usually go back to normal after your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. The outcome is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases lead to damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears. 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 often be helpful. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to determine 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’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant in regards to patients’ experience, but a bit less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing complications was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
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 a relationship of some kind. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one individual story. When scientists are attempting to devise a treatment plan, these personal accounts, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for researchers to go on. So research is essential here.
Scientists will be able to get a better understanding about the hazards of Covid as they gather more data about how widespread these difficulties are.
Obviously, there’s still more to learn. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is ongoing. It’s important to seek help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it once was, call us to make an appointment.