If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss later in life. Similarly, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may 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 entered the fray. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s correct, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years might also result in hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still an extremely new virus. 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 rather preliminary and is still waiting for more information to back it up. So let’s take a look at where things stand at the moment.
So can hearing loss be caused by Covid-19?
So, let’s get this off the table right away: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. All of the currently approved vaccines have this in common. That’s just not how these vaccines work, they don’t affect your ears at all. It would be like eating a nice healthy salad and then declaring that it caused your diabetes.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still greatly exceed the risks for most people. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how can Covid cause hearing loss?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? Particularly, how does this lead to sensorineural hearing loss, the type of hearing loss that is the result of damage to your auditory system and is generally irreversible?
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should mention, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They can both be true!
Theory #1: inflammation
Covid-19 creates inflammation in your upper respiratory tract, and the theory is that this inflammation eventually affects your ears. Your ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, after all. There are a couple of ways this could lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage channels narrower, making it more difficult for fluid to get out or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. In these circumstances, your hearing will typically go back to normal once your symptoms subside (if this takes place, you’re not experiencing sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s important to keep in mind that viruses reproduce by hijacking your body’s own cells. The result is damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can sometimes cause damage to the vascular connections between your ears and your brain. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would probably be essentially permanent.
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often be helpful. There’s still a continuing effort by scientists to discover a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind 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 little 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 probably heard about.
People will go through symptoms of Covid when they are experiencing Long Covid, long after they have recovered from the actual virus. Sometimes, patients 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 exactly 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. The review found that:
- Tinnitus was experienced by 14.8%
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- 7.2% of individuals reported vertigo
There’s definitely a link between Long Covid and hearing issues, but it’s unknown if there’s a direct cause and effect association. A variety of symptoms, including hearing issues, come from Long Covid.
Anecdote or evidence?
When someone talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one single narrative. When researchers are attempting to devise a treatment strategy, these individual stories, while they are part of everyday life for the individuals, aren’t enough for researchers to go on. So research is key here.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing complications are fairly widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the risks involving Covid-19.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. The connection between Covid and hearing loss isn’t either proven or unproven at this point and research is continuing. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still essential that you seek out treatment as soon as you can. So give us a call if you think you might be developing hearing loss.