COVID can cause long-term hearing loss in older adults.
Surprisingly though, long-term hearing loss after COVID is about 50% more common in people aged 40 to 60 than those over 60.
Having COVID doubles the rate of hearing loss in people under 40, an audiology study in the medical journal BMC found. In that study, almost two-thirds of people under 40 with hearing loss developed it only after they had COVID.
How Does COVID Cause Hearing Loss?
COVID can attach to specialized cell receptors all over the body, including those in the ear and in the nerves that transmit electrical signals generated in the inner ear to the brain. It can inflame and damage the cochlear cells involved in hearing and the hair cells involved in balance.
This inflammation and cellular destruction in the inner ear can result in:
- Sensorineural hearing loss. Destruction of the nerves leading to the auditory centers in the brain can result in immediate, profound, and irreversible hearing loss.
- Vestibular dysfunction: Destruction of hair cells can result in dizziness, vertigo, and other balance issues.
How do long COVID patients experience hearing loss?
- They usually don’t have the same degree of hearing loss in both ears.
- More long COVID patients have problems hearing high-frequency sound than low-frequency sound. In this regard, COVID-related hearing loss is similar to age-related hearing loss.
- Audiologists have found that permanent hearing loss from COVID infection is due to nerve damage, not damage to the eardrum.
Nerve damage after COVID affects both smokers and non-smokers. It is worse when the patient has been prescribed chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, or ribavir to treat the disease. COVID vaccinations may also worsen symptoms (although this is not a sufficient reason not to get the shot).
But what if I just had a clogged ear or ear congestion?
COVID can also cause clogged ears or ear congestion with fluid buildup in the middle ear. Here, the virus is like other common ear infections. Inflammation causes a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, so you might feel congestion or fullness in your ear and “underwater” hearing. Middle ear symptoms, fortunately, tend to go away.
How You Can Tell If Long COVID Has Affected Your Hearing
You will probably have trouble hearing high-pitched sounds if you have suffered nerve damage from a viral infection. These are sounds that vibrate at frequencies of 2000 to 6000 Hz,
- You may not be able to hear birds chirping.
- You may misunderstand words with the letters f or s or the diphthong th.
- You may have more trouble understanding when women or children are speaking than when men are speaking.
- You may be unable to hear the sounds children make when playing.
If you have only moderate hearing loss after COVID:
- You probably can still hear dogs barking.
- You can still hear the sounds made by the letters j, u, and z.
- You can still hear thunder.
- You can still hear a lawnmower.
- You may have trouble following a conversation over the phone.
- Listening to music isn’t the same experience it used to be.
- You will feel more tired than usual at the end of the day as your brain works harder to listen, especially in noisy environments.
- You may find that you prefer to spend more time alone than you used to.
If any of these symptoms match your experience after COVID, you may benefit from modern hearing aids.
Modern hearing aids can give you great digital sound. They incorporate algorithms that eliminate background noise while boosting sound from those you are talking to. They also use Bluetooth to connect directly with your smartphone. Now you can stream music, phone calls, movies, TV shows, or podcasts directly into your ears. Since they boast a much longer battery life than most earbuds you won’t have to worry about how much you stream during the day.
Hearing aids can also restore binaural sound so that you can detect the direction of sound again.
The hearing professionals at Harbor Audiology will assess your hearing to prescribe the hearing correction that will serve you best. Request an appointment for an evaluation at the Harbor Audiology office nearest you online or call us at (253) 999-9649. And if you already have hearing aids, we will happily make adjustments to your prescription to fit your current hearing needs!
But What If I Already Had Hearing Loss Before I Got COVID?
If you were already wearing hearing aids before you got COVID, your hearing may have changed, so your hearing aid prescription needs to change. Here are the kinds of problems our patients who have had COVID are running into:
- Tinnitus: A ringing, clicking, buzzing, or a high-pitched “electronic” sound that seems to originate inside your head, a sound nobody else can hear. Your Harbor Audiology audiologist may be able to help by changing your hearing aid prescription, or by recommending a sound machine to distract your brain from the sounds generated by your tinnitus, or with sound retraining. A hearing exam is the first step in getting the treatment you need.
- Balance issues: One of the things your audiologist can do for balance disorders is to test your vestibular system and recommend a provider that can help. There are many therapies involving specific movements for your head, eyes, and body that help to keep you from feeling like the world is spinning around you or you just can’t stand up straight.
- Hearing the world in stereo: As mentioned earlier, COVID usually does not affect both ears the same way. You may only experience additional hearing loss in one ear, or your hearing loss has affected your ability to detect frequencies differently in each ear. Your Harbor Audiologist can adjust your hearing aids to better fit your specific loss or prescribe new hearing aids that will give you the ability to hear the world in surround sound!
Even if your hearing loss has gone from a moderate to severe, or even profound, hearing loss after having caught COVID we can help.
It’s Always a Good Idea to Get a Checkup with Your Harbor Audiologist After COVID-19
During the pandemic, many people put off their regular hearing checkups. If you are over 45, you need a complete exam by your audiologist every three years to catch hearing problems when they are still easily treated.
And if you have had COVID-19, you need to be checked out by your audiologist sooner rather than later.
Your hearing specialist at Harbor Audiology can diagnose the causes of hearing loss, tinnitus, and dizziness. Your audiologist can prescribe hearing aids if needed and recommend ways to stay as active and involved with your family, friends, and job as possible.
Harbor Audiology works with every kind of insurance, including Medicaid, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits. And we make appointments to fit your schedule. Call or text us today at (253) 999-9649!
Reviewed by Dr. Porter on July 6, 2023