You might 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 loud factory floor without ear protection. These hearing loss causes are rather common. But within the past few years, a new cause has entered the fray. 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 may also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early phases of really understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being identified constantly by scientists. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat preliminary and is still waiting for more facts to back it up. So where is this research currently at.
So can hearing loss be triggered by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. Vaccines don’t affect your ears, they just don’t work like that. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then claiming that it caused your diabetes.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. For the majority of individuals, the risks are vastly exceeded by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to talk to your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s discuss hearing loss.
So, how can Covid trigger hearing loss?
So how is hearing loss triggered by this? Specifically, how does it trigger the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to the auditory system which is usually irreversible, known as sensorineural hearing loss?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
The first compelling theory among scientists is that Covid-19 causes considerable inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, and that this inflammation can ultimately impact your ears. After all, your nose, mouth, and ears are all linked. This may produce hearing loss in a couple of ways:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it more difficult for fluid to escape or drain properly. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to accumulate. In these situations, your hearing will typically go back to normal after your symptoms clear up (this wouldn’t be an instance of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can cause damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears occurs because of the way Covid impacts 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 sometimes be helpful. 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 unclear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more substantial in regards to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. By now, you’ve most likely heard of something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their body. Sometimes, people will experience a minor bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that drags on for months (or longer). Scientists still aren’t sure just what causes Long Covid, but there’s no doubt it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by scientists and a report was published in February 2021. Here’s what the review discovered:
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect relationship. Long covid seems to cause a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Evidence or anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when someone says that their hearing hasn’t been the same since they got Covid. It’s one single narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not really enough for scientists to go on when developing treatment guidance. So research is key here.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly prevalent, they’re able to establish a clearer picture of the risks involving Covid-19.
We definitely need to learn more. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is ongoing. It’s crucial to get help as soon as you can regardless of how your hearing loss developed. So if you suspect your hearing isn’t what it used to be, give us a call to schedule an appointment.