If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t use hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss later in life. Similarly, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t wear hearing protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are pretty common and well recognized causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
People all around the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include problems with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of completely understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being uncovered all of the time by scientists. There is some research which indicates that hearing loss could 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.
Does the Covid vaccine produce hearing loss?
So, let’s get this out of the way right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. That just isn’t how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly exceed the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how can this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is typically permanent?
Scientists have a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates 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 linked. There are two ways this might lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. As this fluid accumulates, hearing becomes difficult. In these situations, your hearing will typically return to normal once your symptoms subside (if this happens, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to replicate. The outcome is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases result in damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes be helpful. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unknown, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this type of damage, but it seems obvious that 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 substantiated in terms of patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which people experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their body. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no question, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure why.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that evaluated data about long-term auditory difficulties resulting from Covid-19. The review found that:
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
There’s definitely a link between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. A host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
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 individual story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for researchers to go on when developing treatment guidance. That’s why research is so crucial.
Researchers will be able to get a clearer understanding about the dangers of Covid as they gather more information about how extensive these complications are.
Obviously, there’s still more to learn. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is continuing. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still crucial that you get treatment as soon as possible. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it once was, call us to make an appointment.