If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t use ear protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Hearing loss may be in your future, for example, if you work on a loud factory floor without ear protection. These are fairly common and well known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
People across the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of actually understanding Covid-19. And scientists are discovering something new about it all the time. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more data to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine produce hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to bear in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the presently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t impact your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does it cause the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are 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 affect your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. This might produce hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. As this fluid accumulates, hearing becomes difficult. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will normally go back to normal (this would not be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to keep in mind that viruses replicate by hijacking your body’s own cells. The result is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain 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. Researchers are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. 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 in terms of the cause and effect, but more corroborated in terms of patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
People 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 drags on for months (or longer). Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing complications was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect relationship. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one single story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for scientists to go on when formulating treatment plans. That’s why research is so crucial.
As researchers obtain more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the dangers involving Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to understand. 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 important that you seek treatment as soon as possible. So call us if you suspect you might be developing hearing loss.