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 may be in your future. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But within the past few years, a new cause has surfaced. 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 might also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. And something new about it is being uncovered all of the time by scientists. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather early and is still waiting for more information to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine produce hearing loss?
So, let’s get this off the table right off the bat: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed to cause hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. That just isn’t how these vaccines work, they don’t affect your ears at all. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for dinner.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for the majority of people. Talk to your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that off the table, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how does Covid cause hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is usually irreversible?
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 scientists is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately affect your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all linked. This might produce hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways smaller, making it harder for fluid to get out or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. In these instances, your hearing will typically return to normal after your symptoms clear up (if this takes place, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by hijacking your body’s own cells. This can lead to damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears occurs because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. Scientists are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss due to cell damage. It’s unknown, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you against this kind of damage, but it seems obvious that it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a little murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more substantiated in terms of patients’ experience. 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. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory problems resulting from Covid-19. The review discovered that:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
Whether these auditory difficulties are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t entirely clear, but it goes without saying there’s some kind of relationship. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, 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 one single story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for researchers to go on when developing treatment plans. That’s why research is so crucial.
Scientists will be able to get a better comprehension about the hazards of Covid as they gather more data about how prevalent these complications are.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. Research is ongoing, 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 crucial that you seek treatment as soon as possible. So give us a call if you think you may be experiencing hearing loss.