If you listen to a lot of loud music and don’t wear hearing protection, you might experience hearing loss later in life. Likewise, if you work on a busy factory floor and don’t wear hearing protection, hearing loss might be in your future. These are pretty common and well known causes of hearing loss. But there’s a new kid on the block–and you can probably guess who it is: Covid-19.
That’s right, the same disease that’s been turning the world upside down for the past couple of years may also be responsible for hearing loss.
Possibly. Probably? Okay, Covid-19 is still a very novel virus. And scientists are learning something new about it all the time. Some research does suggest that Covid-19 is linked to hearing loss, but that research is also somewhat preliminary–still waiting for more data to back it up. So let’s take a look at where things stand at the moment.
Does the Covid Vaccine Cause Hearing Loss?
So, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine causes hearing loss. That’s true for all of the currently approved and available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna to Novovax. That’s just not how these vaccines work–they don’t impact your ears at all. It would be like blaming your diabetes on the salad you ate for lunch.
This goes for the brand new mRNA vaccines and the more traditional ones. Which means that the benefits of these vaccines still vastly outweigh the risks for the majority of individuals. If you have questions about vaccines, make sure to talk to your doctor–and get answers from a reputable source.
Okay… with that out of the way, let’s talk about hearing loss.
So, How Does Covid Cause Hearing Loss?
But… how does this cause hearing loss? (Specifically, how does this cause sensorineural hearing loss–the kind of hearing loss that results from damage to your auditory system and is generally permanent?)
Well, there are a couple of theories. These theories, we should point out, aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They could both be true!
Theory #1: Inflammation
The first significant theory among researchers is that Covid-19 causes significant 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 two ways this might lead to hearing loss:
- Fluid buildup: Inflammation can make drainage pathways narrower–making it harder for fluid to escape or drain properly. As this fluid builds up, it becomes harder to hear. In these cases, your hearing will typically return to normal once your symptoms subside (this would not be an example of sensorineural hearing loss).
- Cell damage: It’s important to remember that viruses replicate by taking over your body’s own cells. This can cause damage. And because Covid impacts your vascular system, this can sometimes cause damage to the vascular links between your ears and your brain. (This would be considered sensorineural hearing loss–and would likely be effectively permanent.)
When hearing loss is caused by a buildup due to inflammation, steroids can sometimes help. Researchers are still looking for a way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss caused by cell damage. (It’s unclear, based on this research, just how much protection vaccines give you to this kind of damage–but it’s safe to say it’s better than no protection.)
Theory #2: Long Covid
The second theory is a little murkier in terms of the cause and effect–but more substantiated in terms of patients’ experiences. 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. Sometimes patients will experience a mild 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 denying it’s a real thing.
In February of 2021, scientists published a systematic review that looked at data about long-term auditory complications resulting from Covid-19. The review found that:
- 7.6% of people reported hearing loss after becoming ill with Covid.
- 14.8% reported developing tinnitus
- 7.2% of people reported vertigo
Whether these auditory complications are caused by Long Covid or just associated with them isn’t entirely 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 impact your hearing.
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 story. And while it’s a fact of life for them, it’s not necessarily enough for scientists to go on when devising treatment guidance. That’s why research is so critical.
As researchers uncover more evidence that these hearing complications are relatively widespread, they’re able to generate a clearer image of the dangers associated with Covid-19.
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 disproven. No matter how your hearing loss develops, 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, contact a hearing specialist to make an appointment.
Find a provider in your area to schedule an appointment by searching providers near you.