You might develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Similarly, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t use hearing protection, hearing loss might be in your future. These are pretty common and well known 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 illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of really understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being identified all of the time by scientists. There is some research which indicates 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.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So, let’s get this off the table right off the bat: There’s utterly no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine leads to hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like consuming a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For most people, the risks are greatly exceeded by the advantages. Talk with 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 is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how does this trigger hearing loss? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is generally permanent?
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 theory is that this inflammation eventually affects your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. 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. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. Once the symptoms subside, your hearing will usually go back to normal (this would not be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can result in damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain takes place because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be effectively permanent.
Steroids are sometimes prescribed when hearing loss is a result of inflammation. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unclear, 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 next theory is more substantial in regards to patients’ experience, but a bit less understood in terms of cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely heard about.
People will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists still aren’t sure just what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that examined data about long-term auditory problems resulting from Covid-19. Here’s what the review found:
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. A host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when someone says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s story. When scientists are trying to develop a treatment strategy, these personal accounts, 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 scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly extensive, they’re able to create a clearer image of the dangers related to Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to understand. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is continuing. It’s crucial to get help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it once was, call us to schedule an appointment.