You might develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you regularly expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss might be in your future, for example, if you work on a noisy factory floor without hearing protection. These are fairly common and well known causes of hearing loss. But within the past few years, a new cause has entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. And scientists are learning something new about it all the time. 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 have a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right away: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine triggers hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it was the cause of your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly exceed the risks for most people. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how can Covid trigger hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does it cause the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is normally irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Scientists have a couple of theories. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. There are two ways this could lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. As this fluid accumulates, hearing becomes difficult. In these circumstances, your hearing will typically go back to normal after your symptoms clear up (this would not be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s essential to keep in mind that viruses replicate by hijacking your body’s own cells. This can result in damage. And because Covid affects your vascular system, this can in some cases cause 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.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s unclear, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this type of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second theory is a bit murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. By now, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists still aren’t sure just what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing complications was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
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 some kind of relationship. A host of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s narrative. When scientists are trying to devise a treatment strategy, these individual accounts, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is key here.
Scientists will be able to get a better understanding about the hazards of Covid as they collect more data about how prevalent these difficulties are.
Obviously, there’s still more to understand. Research is continuing, which means the link 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 give us a call if you suspect you may be developing hearing loss.