If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t use ear protection, you may experience hearing loss down the road. Similarly, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t use hearing protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are fairly common and well known 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 right, the same illness 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 stages of actually understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being identified constantly by scientists. There is some research which suggests that hearing loss may be a potential side effect of Covid-19, but more research still needs to be done to back this up. So let’s have a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to remember: 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 just isn’t how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. 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 conventional ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for most people. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to talk to your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how can Covid trigger hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Particularly, how does it trigger the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is normally permanent, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first substantial theory among scientists is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. There are a couple of ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. After the symptoms subside, your hearing will usually return to normal (if this happens, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s essential to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by taking over your body’s own cells. This can result in damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears happens because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
Steroids are sometimes 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. It’s unclear, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this kind 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 in terms of the cause and effect, but more substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Sometimes, people will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). Scientists still aren’t sure precisely what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that examined data about long-term auditory problems caused by Covid-19. The review found that:
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
There’s definitely a connection between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s unknown if there’s a direct cause and effect association. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one individual story. When researchers are attempting to develop a treatment strategy, these individual stories, 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.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer picture of the risks involving Covid-19.
We definitely need to understand more. Research is ongoing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. It’s important to get help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So give us a call if you suspect you may be developing hearing loss.