You may develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss might be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These are pretty common and well known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
People across the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being discovered constantly by scientists. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat early and is still waiting for more facts to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently approved and obtainable vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That just isn’t how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for dinner.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly exceed the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Particularly, how does it cause the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually permanent, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be relevant!
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 eventually impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. This might trigger hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels narrower, making it harder for fluid to escape or drain properly. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to build up. In these situations, your hearing will usually return to normal once your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. The outcome is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears takes place because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically 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 find 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 theory is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. At this point, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
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 still aren’t sure precisely what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing complications was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t very 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.
Evidence or anecdote?
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 story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for scientists to go on when developing treatment guidance. That’s why research is so crucial.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing complications are fairly extensive, they’re able to create a clearer picture of the risks related to Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to understand. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. It’s crucial to get help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So give us a call if you think you might be experiencing hearing loss.