You may develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss may be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without hearing protection. These are pretty common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But within the past few years, a new cause has entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
People all around the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. And something new about it is being uncovered all of the time by scientists. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more information to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine trigger hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to remember: 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 blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for dinner.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for the majority of individuals. Talk to your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how does Covid trigger hearing loss?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is usually 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 substantial theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately affect your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. There are two ways this might lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. As this fluid accumulates, hearing becomes difficult. In these circumstances, your hearing will typically return to normal once your symptoms clear up (if this happens, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Keep in mind that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can cause damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain happens because of the way Covid affects 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 help. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second theory is a little murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more corroborated with regards to patients’ experience. 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 body. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no question, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure why.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
Whether these auditory complications 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 cause a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
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 only one person’s story. When researchers are attempting to come up with a treatment strategy, these individual stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for researchers to go on. That’s why research is so crucial.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the hazards associated with Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to understand. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point 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 suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, call us to make an appointment.