If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you may experience hearing loss down the road. Hearing loss might be in your future, for example, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These are pretty common and well known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
People throughout the world have been ravaged by all of the many symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include problems with hearing.
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. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat early and is still waiting for more information to back it up. So let’s have a look at where things stand right now.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to bear in mind: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t affect your ears at all. 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. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still greatly surpass the risks for the majority of individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? Specifically, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually permanent?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
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 ultimately impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. There are a couple of ways this might cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. In these instances, your hearing will usually return to normal once your symptoms clear up (if this occurs, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. 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 probably be effectively permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is a result of inflammation. Scientists are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss due to cell damage. It’s unknown, based on this research, exactly 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 theory is a bit murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more corroborated in terms of patients’ experience. At this point, you’ve probably heard of something called Long Covid.
Patients will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing 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. Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
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:
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after getting Covid.
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
Whether these auditory difficulties 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 host of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when someone states that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not necessarily enough for scientists to go on when developing treatment guidance. So research is key here.
Researchers will be able to get a better understanding about the hazards of Covid as they gather more data about how extensive these complications are.
We undoubtedly have to learn more. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. Regardless of how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still essential that you seek treatment as soon as possible. So call us if you think you might be developing hearing loss.