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 example, if you work on a loud factory floor without hearing protection. These are fairly common and well known causes of hearing loss. But within the past few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s right, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also lead to hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely novel virus. And something new about it is being identified constantly by scientists. 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.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause 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 eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it caused your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still vastly outweigh the risks for most individuals. Talk with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how does Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They can both be relevant!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 produces inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the concept is that this inflammation ultimately affects your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. 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. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will typically go back to normal (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Keep in mind that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. The outcome is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases cause damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be effectively permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes be helpful. Scientists are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. How much protection from this sort of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is unclear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a bit murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. By now, you’ve most likely heard of something called Long Covid.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Sometimes, patients will experience a mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that evaluated data about long-term auditory difficulties resulting from Covid-19. Here’s what the review found:
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t really clear, but it’s safe to say there’s a relationship of some kind. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Evidence or anecdote?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s story. When researchers are trying to devise a treatment strategy, these individual stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is key here.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly prevalent, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the risks related to Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. Research is continuing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. It’s crucial 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 used to be, call us to schedule an appointment.