You may develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss might be in your future, for example, if you work on a noisy factory floor without hearing protection. These hearing loss causes are rather common. 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 last couple of years may also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of actually understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being uncovered constantly 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 data to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right away: There’s absolutely no proof that the Covid-19 vaccine leads to 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 eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it caused your diabetes.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still vastly outweigh the risks for most individuals. Speak with your doctor and seek reputable information if you have any questions about vaccines.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, how does Covid trigger hearing loss?
But, how does this cause hearing loss? Particularly, how does it cause the kind of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually permanent, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Scientists have a couple of theories. These theories, we should point out, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They can both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first substantial theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes significant inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can eventually affect your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. This may produce hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a more difficult time draining because inflammation has made the drainage channels more narrow. As this fluid accumulates, hearing becomes difficult. In these cases, your hearing will typically return to normal once your symptoms subside (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s important to remember that viruses replicate by taking over your body’s own cells. This can cause damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears happens because of the way Covid affects your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often help. Scientists are still searching for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will provide is not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more significant in regards to patients’ experience, but a little less understood with regards to cause and effect. At this point, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
Patients 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. There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- After having Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
Whether these auditory problems are caused by Long Covid or just in relation to it isn’t really clear, but it goes without saying there’s a relationship of some kind. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when somebody states that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for researchers to go on when devising treatment plans. So research is essential here.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer understanding of the dangers involving Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. Research is continuing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it used to be, call us to make an appointment.