If you’re subjected to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you might experience hearing loss down the road. Similarly, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t use hearing protection, hearing loss might be in your future. These hearing loss causes are fairly common. But there’s a new fighter in the ring, and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Alright, we’re still in the early stages of completely understanding Covid-19. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat preliminary and is still waiting for more facts to back it up. So let’s take a look at where things stand currently.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been confirmed 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 that way. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you had for lunch.
This is true of both the established vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly exceed the risks for the majority of individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So how is hearing loss caused 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 generally irreversible?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the concept is that this inflammation eventually impacts your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all linked, after all. There are two ways this could trigger hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower, making it harder for fluid to escape or drain efficiently. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to build up. Once the symptoms subside, your hearing will normally return to normal (if this occurs, you’re not dealing with sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: Remember that viruses use your body’s own cells to reproduce. The result is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain occurs because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of 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 sort of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next theory is more significant when it comes to patients’ experience, but a little less understood with regards to cause and effect. By now, you’ve probably heard about something called Long Covid.
Long Covid is a condition in which patients experience symptoms from Covid well after the actual virus has left their body. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists are still unsure why.
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:
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after becoming ill with Covid.
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
There’s certainly a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. Long covid seems to initiate a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Evidence or Anecdote?
It’s anecdotal when somebody says that their hearing has been off since they got Covid. It’s only one person’s narrative. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for researchers to go on when formulating treatment guidance. So research is critical here.
Researchers will be able to get a better understanding about the dangers of Covid as they collect more information about how extensive these complications are.
Of course, there’s still more to understand. Research is ongoing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. It’s essential to get help as soon as possible 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 make an appointment.
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