You may develop hearing loss as you get older, especially if you frequently expose yourself to loud noise. Hearing loss may be in your future, for example, if you work on a noisy factory floor without ear protection. These are fairly common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
People across the world have been ravaged by all of the numerous symptoms and side-effects of Covid-19, and that may include issues with hearing.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And scientists are discovering something new about it all the time. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also rather preliminary and is still waiting for more data to back it up. So let’s take a look at where things stand at the moment.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine triggers 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 had for dinner.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more established ones. For most individuals, 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 discuss hearing loss.
So how is hearing loss triggered by Covid?
So how is hearing loss caused by this? Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is usually permanent?
Well, there are a couple of hypotheses. Either one of them could cause hearing loss or both together.
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 eventually impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. This may trigger hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels smaller, making it harder for fluid to get out or drain efficiently. It becomes more and more difficult to hear as this fluid continues to build up. Once the symptoms clear up, your hearing will typically return to normal (if this happens, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to replicate. The consequence is damage. Sometimes, 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 basically irreversible.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is caused by inflammation. 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 unclear, 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 substantiated with regards to patients’ experience. By now, you’ve most likely heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Sometimes, people will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that lasts for months (or longer). Scientists are still unsure precisely what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory complications resulting from Covid-19. The review found that:
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
- After getting Covid, hearing loss was reported by 7.6% of individuals.
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
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 some kind of relationship. A host 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 only one person’s narrative. When researchers are attempting to develop a treatment strategy, 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 crucial.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are relatively extensive, they’re able to create a clearer image of the risks involving Covid-19.
We certainly need to understand more. Research is continuing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t actually proven or unproven. It’s crucial to seek help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So give us a call if you suspect you may be developing hearing loss.