If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you may experience hearing loss down the road. Hearing loss might be in your future, for example, if you work on a loud factory floor without hearing protection. 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 illness 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 novel virus. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. There is some research which suggests 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 take a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this off the table right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. All of the presently 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 blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for lunch.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly surpass the risks for most people. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how does Covid cause hearing loss?
But, how does this trigger 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 usually irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 causes inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation eventually affects your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. There are a couple of ways this might trigger hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels smaller, making it harder for fluid to escape or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. After the symptoms clear up, your hearing will normally go back to normal (if this happens, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by hijacking your body’s own cells. The outcome is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases lead to damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be essentially permanent.
Steroids are sometimes prescribed when hearing loss is related to inflammation. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unclear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant in regards to patients’ experience, but a little less understood with regards to cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
People 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 lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no question, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure why.
Data about long-term hearing problems was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t really clear, but it goes without saying there’s a relationship of some kind. A variety of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one individual story. When researchers are attempting to develop a treatment strategy, these individual accounts, while they are part of day-to-day life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is critical here.
As scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively prevalent, they’re able to generate a clearer picture of the risks related to Covid-19.
We definitely need to understand more. Research is ongoing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. It’s essential to get help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So call us if you think you might be experiencing hearing loss.