You may develop hearing loss as you get older, particularly if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Similarly, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear hearing protection, hearing loss might be in your future. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. 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? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very novel virus. And scientists are learning something new about it all the time. There is some research which indicates 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 take a look at where things stand right now.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. All of the presently approved vaccines have this in common. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for lunch.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For most people, the risks are greatly outweighed by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to speak with your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how does this trigger hearing loss? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is typically permanent?
Well, there are a couple of theories. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the idea is that this inflammation eventually affects your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. There are two ways this might trigger hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to build up. After the symptoms subside, your hearing will typically go back to normal (if this occurs, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to replicate. The consequence is damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain occurs because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. Scientists are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is unknown, but 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 substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals 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 denying 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 discovered that:
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
There’s definitely a link between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. A variety of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Evidence or anecdote?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s only one person’s narrative. When scientists are trying to develop a treatment strategy, these personal accounts, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. So research is critical here.
As scientists uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer understanding of the hazards related to Covid-19.
Obviously, there’s still more to understand. Research is ongoing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. Regardless of how you developed hearing loss, however, it’s still essential that you get treatment as soon as you can. So call us if you think you may be experiencing hearing loss.