If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you may experience hearing loss down the road. Similarly, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are pretty 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.
That’s correct, 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? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being discovered constantly by scientists. 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 information to back it up. So let’s have a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to bear in mind: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine triggers 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 affect your ears at all. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for lunch.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. For most people, the risks are greatly outweighed by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how does this trigger hearing loss? Specifically, how does it trigger the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is normally permanent, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. 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 considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually affect your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. This may cause 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. In these instances, your hearing will typically go back to normal once your symptoms clear up (if this takes place, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to replicate. The outcome is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain takes place because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be generally permanent.
Steroids are sometimes prescribed when hearing loss is a result of inflammation. Scientists are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. It’s unknown, based on this research, exactly how much protection vaccines give you against this sort of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a little murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more corroborated with regards to patients’ experience. At this point, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are dealing with Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t entirely clear, but it’s safe to say there’s a relationship of some kind. Long covid seems to cause a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one single story. When scientists are trying to devise a treatment strategy, these individual accounts, while they are part of day-to-day life for the individuals, aren’t enough for researchers to go on. So research is essential here.
Researchers will be able to get a clearer understanding about the dangers of Covid as they gather more data about how widespread these difficulties are.
We definitely need to understand more. The link between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is continuing. It’s important 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.