If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t use ear protection, you might experience hearing loss later in life. Similarly, if you work on a noisy 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 illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of actually understanding Covid-19. And scientists are learning something new about it every day. There is some research which indicates 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 let’s have 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 off the bat: There’s utterly no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. All of the presently approved vaccines have this in common. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for dinner.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more conventional ones. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly outweigh the risks for most individuals. Speak with your doctor and find reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is generally irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can both be relevant!
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 ultimately impact your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all interconnected, after all. This might cause hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels narrower, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. After the symptoms clear up, your hearing will normally return to normal (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to replicate. This can result in damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain occurs because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be generally permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is caused by inflammation. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to determine a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a bit murkier in terms of the cause and effect, but more corroborated with regards to patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have probably heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their body. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that lasts for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists are still unsure precisely what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review found:
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t entirely clear, but it goes without saying there’s a relationship of some kind. A variety of symptoms, including hearing problems, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing has been off since they got Covid. It’s one individual narrative. When scientists are trying to come up with a treatment plan, these personal stories, while they are part of day-to-day life for the individuals, aren’t enough for researchers to go on. So research is critical here.
Scientists will be able to get a clearer understanding about the dangers of Covid as they collect more information about how extensive these complications are.
We undoubtedly have to understand more. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is ongoing. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact us to make an appointment.