You may develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss may be in your future, for example, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These hearing loss causes are pretty common. But there’s a new fighter in the ring, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
People across the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of completely understanding Covid-19. And scientists are learning something new about it every day. There is some research which suggests 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 take a look at where things stand at the moment.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
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. All of the presently approved vaccines have this in common. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. 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 greatly surpass the risks for most individuals. 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 talk about hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how does this trigger hearing loss? Particularly, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is generally permanent?
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 compelling theory among researchers 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 connected. 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. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. In these instances, your hearing will typically go back to normal after 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. This can cause damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain takes place because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically irreversible.
Steroids are sometimes prescribed when hearing loss is related to inflammation. Scientists are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unclear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less understood with regards to cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely heard about.
Patients 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 drags out 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 difficulties was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect relationship. A host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
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 single narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for researchers to go on when devising treatment guidance. So research is key here.
As researchers obtain more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively prevalent, they’re able to establish a clearer picture of the dangers related to Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to learn. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is ongoing. It’s important to get help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So call us if you think you might be experiencing hearing loss.