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 instance, if you work on a loud factory floor without hearing protection. These hearing loss causes are pretty common. But there’s a new kid on the block, and you can most likely guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s right, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very novel virus. And something new about it is being discovered all of the time by scientists. There is some research which indicates that hearing loss may be a potential side effect of Covid-19, but more research still needs to be done to back this up. So where is this research currently at.
Does the Covid vaccine cause hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to bear in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. 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. For most people, the risks are greatly exceeded by the benefits. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor, and get information from a reputable source.
Let’s discuss hearing loss now that we’ve cleared that up.
So how is hearing loss caused by Covid?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? Particularly, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss, the kind of hearing loss that results from 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 relevant!
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. There are a couple of ways this might cause hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes harder and harder to hear as this fluid continues to build up. In these situations, your hearing will typically return to normal after your symptoms clear up (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s essential to remember that viruses reproduce by taking over your body’s own cells. The consequence is damage. Sometimes, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears occurs because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This situation is sensorineural hearing loss and will be basically permanent.
When hearing loss is a result of a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can often be helpful. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. How much protection from this kind of hearing loss the vaccines will supply is not clear, but it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next hypothesis is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a little less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely 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 mild bout of Covid followed by a debilitating Long Covid experience that drags on for months (or longer). There’s no doubt, Long Covid is real, but scientists still aren’t sure why.
In February of 2021, researchers published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory complications caused by Covid-19. The review found that:
- 7.6% of individuals reported hearing impairment after becoming ill with Covid.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
- Tinnitus was reported by 14.8%
There’s definitely a connection between Long Covid and hearing problems, but it’s not known if there’s a direct cause and effect association. Long covid seems to trigger a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that impact your hearing.
Evidence or Anecdote?
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. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it isn’t really enough for researchers to go on when devising treatment guidance. That’s why research is so critical.
As researchers obtain more evidence that these hearing difficulties are fairly extensive, they’re able to create a clearer understanding of the dangers associated with Covid-19.
We undoubtedly have to learn more. Research is ongoing, which means the connection between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. No matter how your hearing loss develops, however, it’s still important that you seek out treatment as soon as possible. So call us if you suspect you might be experiencing hearing loss.
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