If you’re exposed to a lot of loud sound and don’t wear ear protection, you may experience hearing loss later in life. Likewise, if you work on a noisy factory floor and don’t wear ear protection, hearing loss may be in your future. These are pretty common and widely known causes of hearing loss. But within the last few years, a new cause has surfaced. Yup, you guessed it, Covid-19.
That’s right, the same illness that’s been turning the world upside down for the last couple of years may also lead to hearing loss.
Maybe? Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very new virus. And something new about it is being identified all of the time by scientists. Some research does indicate that Covid-19 is connected to hearing loss, but that research is also rather preliminary and is still waiting for more data to back it up. So let’s have a look at where things stand currently.
Does the Covid vaccine trigger hearing loss?
So here’s the first thing to bear in mind: The Covid-19 vaccine has never been proven to cause 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 ate for lunch.
This is true of both the conventional vaccines and the new mRNA vaccines. Which means that the advantages of these vaccines still vastly outweigh the risks for most individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, be certain to speak with your doctor, and get answers from a reputable source.
Let’s talk about hearing loss now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.
So, how does Covid trigger hearing loss?
But, how can this trigger hearing loss? Specifically, 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 usually permanent?
Scientists have a couple of hypotheses. These theories, we should point out, aren’t always mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
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. There are a couple of ways this could trigger hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Fluid has a harder time draining because inflammation has made the drainage pathways more narrow. It becomes more and more difficult 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: Keep in mind that viruses utilize your body’s own cells to reproduce. This can lead to damage. In some cases, damage to the vascular connections between your brain and your ears takes place because of the way Covid impacts your vascular system. This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss, and would likely be essentially permanent.
Steroids are occasionally prescribed when hearing loss is caused by inflammation. There’s still an ongoing effort by scientists to find a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. It’s not clear, based on this research, exactly how much protection vaccines give you against this sort of damage, but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.
Theory #2: Long Covid
The next theory is more substantial when it comes to patients’ experience, but a bit less comprehended in terms of cause and effect. There’s something called Long Covid which you, by now, have most likely heard about.
Long Covid is a condition in which people experience symptoms from Covid long after the actual virus has left their system. Often, a debilitating bout of long Covid that drags out for months, or longer, after having Covid itself, is experienced. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes Long Covid, but there’s no denying it’s a real thing.
Data about long-term hearing difficulties was systematically reviewed by researchers and a report was published in February 2021. The review found that:
- 14.8% reported experiencing tinnitus
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after getting Covid.
- Vertigo was reported by7.2% of people
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with it isn’t very clear, but it’s safe to say there’s a relationship of some kind. Long covid seems to cause a broad constellation of symptoms, including those that affect your hearing.
Anecdote or evidence?
When somebody talks about how they got Covid and haven’t been able to hear the same since, that’s an anecdote. It’s one individual story. When scientists are trying 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. So research is essential here.
Scientists will be able to get a better understanding about the dangers of Covid as they accumulate more information about how widespread these difficulties are.
Of course, there’s still more to learn. Research is ongoing, which means the link between Covid-19 and hearing loss isn’t necessarily proven or unproven. Regardless of how you developed hearing loss, however, it’s still important that you seek out treatment as soon as possible. So if you think your hearing isn’t what it used to be, give us a call to make an appointment.
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