If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t use hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Likewise, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are pretty common and well recognized causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new fighter in the ring, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of completely understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being identified all of the time by scientists. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather preliminary and is still waiting for more data to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and obtainable vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t affect your ears at all. It would be like consuming a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. For the majority of individuals, the risks are greatly exceeded by the advantages. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how can Covid trigger hearing loss?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does it trigger the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually permanent, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. This may trigger hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. Once the symptoms subside, your hearing will usually return to normal (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to keep in mind that viruses replicate by hijacking your body’s own cells. This can lead to damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can sometimes result in damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be essentially permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is caused by inflammation. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this sort of hearing loss the vaccines will provide 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 corroborated with regards to patients’ experience. At this point, you’ve most likely heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which people experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their body. 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 still aren’t sure why.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory complications resulting from Covid-19. The review found that:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after becoming ill with Covid.
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 a relationship of some kind. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when someone says that their hearing has been off since they got Covid. It’s one single story. When researchers are trying to develop a treatment plan, these individual stories, while they are part of day-to-day life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. That’s why research is so critical.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly prevalent, they’re able to generate a clearer understanding of the dangers associated with Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to understand. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is continuing. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to make an appointment.