If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you may experience hearing loss later in life. Likewise, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t use ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being identified all of the time 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 right now.
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 presently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for dinner.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. For the majority of people, the risks are vastly outweighed by the advantages. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be relevant!
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 linked, after all. There are two ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it harder for fluid to get out or drain properly. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to build up. Once the symptoms subside, your hearing will normally 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 taking over your body’s own cells. This can cause damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can in some cases result in damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be effectively permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is a result of inflammation. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to find 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 bit murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. At this point, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
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 doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure why.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that evaluated data about long-term auditory complications due to Covid-19. The review discovered that:
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t entirely clear, but it’s safe to say there’s some kind of relationship. A host 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 story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for scientists to go on when devising treatment guidance. That’s why research is so critical.
As researchers obtain more evidence that these hearing complications are fairly prevalent, they’re able to create a clearer picture of the hazards involving Covid-19.
We definitely need to understand more. Research is continuing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. It’s essential to get help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it once was, give us a call to make an appointment.