If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Hearing loss may be in your future, for example, if you work on a loud factory floor without ear protection. These are pretty common and well known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. 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? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely novel virus. And something new about it is being uncovered all of the time by scientists. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather preliminary and is still waiting for more facts to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So, let’s get this off the table right off the bat: There’s absolutely no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine leads to hearing loss. All of the presently approved vaccines have this in common. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for lunch.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly surpass the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does it cause the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is normally irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 produces inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation ultimately impacts your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. There are two ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels narrower, making it more difficult for fluid to escape or drain efficiently. As this fluid accumulates, it becomes harder to hear. In these cases, your hearing will typically return to normal after your symptoms clear up (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s essential to remember that viruses replicate by taking over your body’s own cells. This can result in damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can sometimes lead to damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be generally permanent.
Steroids are sometimes prescribed when hearing loss is a result of 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 not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant in regards to patients’ experience, but a little less understood with regards to cause and effect. 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 long after the actual virus has left their body. 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 evaluated data about long-term auditory difficulties caused by Covid-19. The review found that:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
There’s certainly a connection between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s unknown if there’s a direct cause and effect association. A variety of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when someone states that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one individual narrative. When researchers are trying to devise a treatment strategy, these individual 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.
Researchers will be able to get a clearer understanding about the dangers of Covid as they collect more information about how prevalent these complications are.
We certainly have to understand more. Research is continuing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. It’s important to seek help as soon as you can 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.