One of the most unusual symptoms of COVID-19 is that it can temporarily dampen your senses of smell and taste. Indeed, loss of smell is often one of the first signs of infection. But your smell and taste aren’t the only sense impacted by COVID-19. New findings are pointing to an uncommon, but longer-term association: permanent sensorineural hearing loss.
How Can COVID-19 Cause Hearing Loss?
Scientists are discovering more about COVID-19 every single day. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. The virus itself was only first discovered in late 2019. Usually, scientists work for years–if not decades–to fully describe a new pathogen. One thing we’re discovering about Covid is that it impacts different people in a lot of different ways (making it a particularly tricky and challenging nemesis).
There are a wide variety of symptoms you can experience. And one of those symptoms is permanent hearing loss. Researchers still aren’t sure why that happens. It could be something called “cellular stress” caused by the virus. According to this theory, COVID puts so much strain on your body that certain cells (such as those responsible for hearing) start to break down. But this type of hearing loss could also be a result of your body’s own immune response. Sometimes your immune system can go into overdrive and ends up causing significant damage to your body.
It’s also worth pointing out that sometimes this hearing loss can first present as other COVID symptoms are on their way out. The exact timing isn’t precisely understood. Nor do we have a good grasp of what kind of underlying conditions might cause COVID-related hearing loss to become more or less likely to occur.
Can This Hearing Loss Be Treated?
Sensorineural hearing loss caused by COVID-19 can indeed be permanent. Of course, there are a lot of variables, and there are some treatments, too. In fact, researchers have noticed already that steroid treatments seem to help preserve your hearing, especially if you get early treatment. It’s important to see a doctor right away if you experience sudden hearing loss.
Either way, once you’ve fully recovered from your COVID-19 experience, it might be a good idea to visit your hearing specialist and undergo a hearing screening. You’ll be able to tell, then, if there’s been any damage and how much of that damage may be permanent.
There are a couple of qualifiers to all of this that are worth pointing out. First and foremost, hearing loss does seem to be a relatively uncommon symptom of COVID. We don’t know yet how prevalent this particular symptom is at this point. But it’s likely that the science on COVID will continue to update and change as scientists discover more.
Can You Prevent COVID-Related Hearing Loss?
Right now, if you already have COVID, you should let your doctor know right away if you have any sudden change to your hearing. An early response may help reduce long-term hearing loss.
Ask your doctor about steroids: If you have COVID and you start noticing any hearing loss, steroids could help prevent permanent damage. Hearing loss is only one of the health concerns related to COVID – your doctor will have to determine the best treatment based on all your symptoms and your health history.
Wear a mask and social distance: The best way to prevent COVID-related hearing loss is to do everything possible to avoid contracting COVID in the first place. This means following CDC guidelines when it comes to social gatherings, physical distancing, and wearing a mask.
While this particular symptom is uncommon, it still happens. And the more information you have about COVID and hearing loss, the better. If you think you’ve already suffered hearing damage, it’s probably a good idea to contact your hearing specialist to have your hearing evaluated.