Can the COVID-19 Booster Cause Deafness?

Reviewed by Dr. Porter on April 17, 2023

In 2021, some people experienced sudden sensorineural hearing loss after taking their first and second COVID-19 vaccinations. This brought up many questions and concerns in the healthcare community, prompting research and studies to see if there was a direct correlation.

Three Typical Cases

In 2021, two doctors published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases discussed three cases of patients who came to their clinic to diagnose and treat sudden deafness after taking COVID-19 shots.

One of their patients was a 64-year-old woman who came for her appointment two days after getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Her hearing loss was severe, at 86 decibels, in her right ear. She also had a hearing loss of 17 decibels in her left ear.

The doctors prescribed 60 mg of prednisone (a steroid you can take by mouth) daily for the next five days. Her hearing improved to just 30 decibels of hearing loss in her right ear. But because she was not completely recovered, the doctors gave her a series of steroid injections into the ear. These completely restored the hearing in her left ear and left her with 16 decibels of hearing loss in her right ear.

The doctors also saw a 42-year-old man with severe hearing loss in his left ear two weeks after getting a Pfizer shot. He had minimal hearing loss (9 decibels in one ear and 13 decibels in the other) at high frequencies but serious hearing loss at low frequencies. The doctors also put him on prednisolone tablets for five days, with improvement but not a complete recovery. He got his hearing back after steroid injections into the ear.

There are some common themes in these three cases. One is that hearing loss after COVID-19 vaccination occurs very quickly, in 48 hours (about 2 days) to 2 weeks.  Another is that sudden hearing loss following a COVID shot is treatable, at least if you immediately make an appointment with a hearing specialist. But there is a third common theme: Treating the inflammation of the inner ear following a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine requires strong medicine.

How Common Is Hearing Loss as a Reaction to COVID-19 Vaccination?

When reports of sudden deafness after COVID vaccination started popping up all over the world, a group of hearing researchers in Finland set out to see what the real relationship between vaccination and sudden deafness was. Finland is a nation of about 5.5 million people whose health records are in a single database. It is also a country where a remarkably high percentage of the population received the vaccine.

The researchers discovered that the number of cases of sudden deafness, at least the number of diagnosed cases of sudden deafness, plummeted during the early months of the pandemic. This could have been because people were not going to the doctor for any reason.

There was, however, a sharp increase in cases once the vaccines became available. Seventy-one people developed sudden deafness after taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, one hundred seventeen people developed sudden deafness after taking the Moderna vaccine and nine hundred and nineteen people developed sudden deafness after taking the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Forty-one people developed sudden deafness after becoming infected with COVID.

Some trends emerged in the reports from Finland:

  • If you were 54 or younger, you were more likely to develop hearing loss after your first shot.
  • If you were 55 or older, you were more likely to develop hearing loss after your second shot.
  • Pfizer’s booster (third) shot increased the risk of sudden deafness in both younger and older people.

Diabetes and heart disease had no relationship to the risk of sudden deafness after COVID vaccination.

But the most important finding of the study was that, overall, the rate of sudden deafness from all causes actually declined after the COVID vaccines became available.

So, Is It Safe to Take a COVID Shot?

Sudden hearing loss is not something that happens very often. Only about 66,000 people a year develop the condition in the United States. That is about one in every 5,000 people. So, few people develop sudden sensorineural hearing loss after COVID vaccination that it is difficult to distinguish vaccination as a cause of the condition. There are no more vaccinated people with hearing loss than unvaccinated people.

You should not decide about taking the COVID-19 vaccine based on whether it will affect your hearing. But you should make an appointment with Harbor Audiology as quickly as possible whenever you:

  • Experience sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears.
  • Experience hearing as if you were underwater. This can signify that your ears are filled with fluid caused by an inflammatory reaction.
  • Lose your ability to hear low pitches (more common with inflammation of the inner) ear or high pitches.
  • Have issues with dizziness, vertigo, or falls.
  • Experience tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, clicking, or a high-pitched “electronic” sound inside your head).

If COVID causes hearing loss, or a reaction to the COVID vaccine, it is usually treatable. You can get your hearing back if you get treatment within 24-48 hours. This drastically increases the chances of medical intervention being successful in returning some, if not all, of your hearing. Your hearing specialist at Harbor Audiology can help to determine the cause of your hearing loss and get you pointed to the precise treatment you need. We want you to know we can always do more for you if we have baseline measurements. Please come in to establish your care before you urgently need us!

At Harbor Audiology, we work with all kinds of insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ benefits. We accommodate your schedule, and we serve patients all around the Sound. Whether you are in Seattle, Tacoma, Federal Way, Gig Harbor, Silverdale, Port Angeles, or Sequim, we are close to you and eager to help you achieve the best hearing possible. Call or text us at (253) 999-9649 to arrange an appointment near you.

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