If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss later in life. Similarly, if you work on a busy 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 past few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
People throughout the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that might include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being uncovered all of the time by scientists. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat preliminary and is still waiting for more information to back it up. So let’s have a look at where things stand currently.
Does the Covid vaccine produce hearing loss?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and obtainable vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like consuming a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. For the majority of people, the risks are vastly outweighed by the benefits. Speak to your doctor and seek reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So, how does Covid trigger hearing loss?
But, how can this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is typically irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 produces inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the theory is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. This may trigger hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. In these circumstances, your hearing will typically go back to normal after your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by taking over your body’s own cells. This can result in damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can sometimes lead to damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be essentially permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is related to inflammation. Scientists are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss due to cell damage. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is unclear, 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 bit less understood with regards to cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their body. Sometimes, people will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing problems was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- 7.6% of people reported hearing impairment after becoming ill with Covid.
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t very clear, but it goes without saying there’s some kind of relationship. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or Anecdote?
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 narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not actually enough for scientists to go on when formulating treatment guidance. That’s why research is so critical.
As scientists unearth more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly prevalent, they’re able to establish a clearer understanding of the dangers involving Covid-19.
We certainly 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 crucial to get help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, call us to make an appointment.