If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t use ear protection, you may experience hearing loss down the road. Similarly, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss might be in your future. These are fairly common and well 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 be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And scientists are learning something new about it every day. 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 let’s take a look at where things stand at the moment.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine leads to hearing loss. All of the currently 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 ate for lunch.
This applies to the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. For most individuals, the risks are vastly exceeded by the advantages. Talk with your doctor and find 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 triggered by Covid?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Specifically, 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 hypotheses. 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 theory is that this inflammation eventually affects your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. This may cause hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it harder for fluid to get out or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, hearing becomes difficult. In these circumstances, your hearing will typically go back to normal once your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Damaged cells: It’s important to remember that viruses reproduce by taking over your body’s own cells. The result is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can in some cases lead to damage to the vascular links between your brain and your ears. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes be helpful. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this type of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is unknown, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second hypothesis is a bit murkier when it comes to the cause and effect, but more corroborated 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 people experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their system. 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 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. Here’s what the review discovered:
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of people.
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t entirely clear, but it goes without saying there’s a relationship of some kind. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one individual story. When scientists are trying to come up with a treatment plan, these individual stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for scientists to go on. That’s why research is so critical.
Scientists will be able to get a clearer understanding about the hazards of Covid as they accumulate more information about how extensive these difficulties are.
We undoubtedly have to understand more. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still important that you get treatment as soon as possible. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it once was, give us a call to schedule an appointment.