You may develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Likewise, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These hearing loss causes are pretty common. But within the past few years, a new cause has entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years might also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of actually understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more data to back it up. So let’s take a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: There’s utterly no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine causes 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 blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for lunch.
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 the majority of individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is typically irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the theory is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. This might cause hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. After the symptoms clear up, your hearing will usually go back to normal (if this takes place, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by hijacking your body’s own cells. This can lead to damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can in some cases cause damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be effectively permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s not clear, based on this research, exactly 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 second theory is a little murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more substantiated 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 patients experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out 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 researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review found:
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t very clear, but it goes without saying there’s a relationship of some kind. A host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Evidence or Anecdote?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one single story. When scientists are trying to develop a treatment strategy, these individual accounts, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is key here.
Scientists will be able to get a clearer understanding about the dangers of Covid as they gather more information about how prevalent these difficulties are.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is ongoing. It’s important to get 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, contact us to schedule an appointment.