If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you may experience hearing loss later in life. Similarly, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear hearing protection, hearing loss might 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 entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of completely understanding Covid-19. And scientists are learning something new about it all the time. There is some research which suggests that hearing loss may be a potential side effect of Covid-19, but more research still needs to be done to back this up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine cause 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 leads to hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for dinner.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For most individuals, the risks are greatly outweighed by the advantages. Talk with your doctor and seek reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Specifically, how does it trigger the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can both be relevant!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first substantial theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. There are a couple of ways this could cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain properly. As this fluid accumulates, it becomes harder to hear. In these situations, your hearing will usually return to normal after your symptoms subside (if this happens, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can result in damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can sometimes cause damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would most likely be effectively permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by 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 sort of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second theory is a little murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more corroborated in terms of patients’ experience. By now, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
People 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 lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists are still unsure 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 scientists and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t very clear, but it’s safe to say there’s some kind of relationship. Long covid seems to cause a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or Anecdote?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and had hearing issues ever since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one individual narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for scientists to go on when devising treatment guidance. That’s why research is so critical.
As scientists obtain more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively widespread, they’re able to create a clearer picture of the risks related to Covid-19.
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. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still crucial that you seek treatment as soon as possible. So call us if you suspect you might be experiencing hearing loss.