You might develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Likewise, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t use ear protection, hearing loss might 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 most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
People throughout the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being uncovered 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.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for lunch.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. For most people, the risks are greatly exceeded by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how can this cause hearing loss? Particularly, 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 typically permanent?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They could both be relevant!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. There are two ways this might cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. After the symptoms clear up, your hearing will typically go back to normal (if this happens, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can result in damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears takes place 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 an ongoing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unclear, based on this research, exactly how much protection vaccines give you against this kind of damage, but it seems obvious that it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next theory is more significant in regards to patients’ experience, but a bit less understood with regards to cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are dealing with Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Sometimes, people will experience a mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that drags on for months (or longer). There’s no question, 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 difficulties due to Covid-19. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.6% of people reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one single story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for researchers to go on when formulating treatment guidance. So research is key here.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively extensive, they’re able to establish a clearer image of the dangers associated with 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. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still crucial that you seek treatment as soon as you can. So give us a call if you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss.