You may develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss may be in your future, for instance, if you work on a noisy factory floor without hearing protection. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
People all around the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include problems with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very novel virus. And something new about it is being identified constantly by scientists. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more information to back it up. So let’s take a look at where things stand at the moment.
So can hearing loss be caused 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 currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it caused your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly outweigh the risks for most people. Talk to your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
But, how can this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually permanent?
Scientists have a couple of theories. 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 theory is that this inflammation ultimately affects your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all interconnected. There are a couple of ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels 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. In these instances, your hearing will usually return to normal after your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to remember that viruses replicate by hijacking your body’s own cells. The result is damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can in some cases result in damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be generally irreversible.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this sort of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unknown, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next theory is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely 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, patients will experience a mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). Scientists still aren’t sure just what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory difficulties due to Covid-19. The review discovered that:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect relationship. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Evidence or anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when somebody states that their hearing has been off since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not necessarily enough for researchers to go on when formulating treatment guidance. That’s why research is so crucial.
As researchers unearth more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively widespread, they’re able to create a clearer understanding of the risks related to Covid-19.
We undoubtedly have to understand more. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is ongoing. It’s crucial 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, call us to make an appointment.