During 2022, the World Health Organization began examining rare reports of hearing issues occurring after COVID-19 vaccinations. They posted a newsletter on their website in which they stated they had been made aware of auditory problems such as tinnitus and hearing loss that could be associated with the vaccines.
Read on to find out what we know about the reports so far and what science has to say about the potential link:
About the Reports
WHO reported 164 cases of hearing loss worldwide among individuals who had received Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or AstraZeneca shots, and 367 cases of tinnitus. According to WHO’s analysis, around 80% of the tinnitus cases occurred in individuals who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The reported numbers were out of 11 billion doses of COVID vaccines given all over the world, so the potential adverse effects did seem quite rare.
The average age of those who reported hearing loss was 47. Most of the individuals were healthy and had no previous conditions. Those who had tinnitus were aged 48 on the average, with almost 75 percent of them being women and a third working in healthcare.
Most of the individuals are reported to have recovered. Some of them, however, state that the condition has caused them great discomfort and has been going on for months, like one Dr Gregory Poland, for example. According to an NBC News article, Poland- a scientific adviser for Johnson & Johnson/ Janssen Global Services who acts as a consultant on vaccine development for Moderna- was still suffering from ‘unrelenting’ tinnitus one year after receiving his second COVID-19 vaccine.
It should be noted, however, that there is no medical proof that any of these cases occurred as a result of the COVID-19 vaccinations the individuals received, and the conditions could have been purely coincidental, especially considering their rarity.
What Does Science Say?
In 2021, upon experiencing an increase in patients suffering from sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine tried to address the reports by conducting a study. They used data from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) and compared it with the expected incidence of sensorineural hearing loss in the wider population. According to their findings, the incidence of SSNHL occurring after COVID-19 vaccination not only doesn’t exceed that of the general population but may even be lower.
The lead author of the study, Eric Formeister, M.D., has said that although this analysis suggests the COVID vaccines are not associated with sudden hearing loss, ‘more research is needed to address this question’.
There were two studies published in the February 2022 edition of JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery which attempted to assess whether sudden hearing loss was linked to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. One of them was conducted in Israel, and the other- in the US.
The Israeli study included about 2.5 million people all of whom received the Pfizer-BioTech mRNA vaccine. Results indicated sudden hearing loss in only 91 individuals after the first dose and 79- after the second. Researchers stated these numbers were quite low, but still ‘higher than expected’.
The US study, on the other hand, used an updated analysis of VAERS data and a case series of patients who experienced sudden hearing loss after COVID-19 vaccination. Its findings suggested no association between COVID-19 vaccines and an increased risk of hearing loss compared with the expected incidence in the general population.
While it is perhaps fair to say that further research is needed to clearly determine whether there is a connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and auditory problems, it seems that the scientific data that is currently available doesn’t indicate any significant correlation between the two.
Dr Poland who experienced issues with tinnitus after receiving his second COVID vaccine stated that ‘Nobody should be afraid to get a vaccine because of the possibility of some sort of auditory side effect’, as reported by an NBC News article. According to him, the risks of complications from COVID are far higher than the risks to the vaccine.
Whether you have received a COVID-19 vaccination or not, one thing is clear: if you do notice you are experiencing hearing problems, the best step is to book an appointment with your local audiologist to have your hearing tested. We at Hear4U offer fully comprehensive hearing tests that we carry out using the most recent diagnostic technology available. And the best part? They are completely free! Click the button below to book your appointment today.