You might develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Similarly, if you work on a noisy 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 fighter in the ring, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s right, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of completely understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time 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 where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for lunch.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For the majority of individuals, the risks are vastly exceeded by the benefits. Talk with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 causes inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the concept is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. This might result in hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will usually go back to normal (if this occurs, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by taking over your body’s own cells. The consequence is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears occurs because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. 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 often be helpful. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unknown, but 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 corroborated in terms of patients’ experience. At this point, you’ve probably heard of something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts 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.
Data about long-term hearing complications was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review found:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
There’s definitely a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s unknown if there’s a direct cause and effect relationship. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not actually enough for scientists to go on when formulating treatment plans. So research is critical here.
Researchers will be able to get a clearer comprehension about the dangers of Covid as they accumulate more data about how widespread these difficulties are.
We definitely need to learn more. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is continuing. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still essential that you seek treatment as soon as possible. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to schedule an appointment.