If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Likewise, 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 recognized causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
People throughout the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include problems with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it every day. 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 at the moment.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to remember: There’s utterly no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available 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 consuming a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it caused your diabetes.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still vastly surpass the risks for the majority of individuals. Speak to 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 does this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is generally irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of theories. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among scientists is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. This may produce hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it harder for fluid to escape or drain properly. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. In these cases, your hearing will usually return to normal once your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. The outcome is damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain occurs because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be essentially 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 due to 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 theory is more substantial in regards to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. By now, you’ve most likely heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which people experience symptoms from Covid well 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. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that examined data about long-term auditory problems due to Covid-19. The review discovered that:
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
There’s certainly 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.
Evidence or anecdote?
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. When scientists are trying to develop a treatment plan, these individual accounts, while they are part of day-to-day life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is essential here.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly extensive, they’re able to establish a clearer image of the risks associated with Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to learn. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this time and research is ongoing. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still essential that you seek out treatment as soon as possible. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to make an appointment.