As we’ve become all too aware, a virus can often seem to come out of nowhere and cause a variety of frustrating, sometimes scary, symptoms. Viruses can be as mild as the common cold or as severe as Ebola. What you may not know, is that some viruses have also been linked to hearing loss.
Here’s what you need to know about the connection between viruses and hearing loss.
What is a virus?
We hear a lot about them, but what is a virus? By definition, a virus is “an infectious agent that can only replicate within a host organism.” They are microscopic in size but can be powerful and adaptable, posing a risk to the bacteria, plants, animals, and even people they infect.
Which viruses are linked to hearing loss?
If we’ve learned anything lately, it’s that every virus is different, and every virus affects every person a little differently. With that said, several viruses put us at higher risk for hearing loss, whether that is congenital hearing loss or a loss that happens due to a virus later in life. Here are the viruses most commonly linked with hearing loss:
- Cytomegalovirus. This virus and others in its family, frequently cause congenital hearing loss in children. In fact, it is responsible for the most non-genetic cases of sensorineural hearing loss in children. In these cases, it’s not unusual for hearing loss to develop after their initial hearing screenings.
- German Measles, or Rubella. In the same family of viruses as Cytomegalovirus, German Measles or Rubella generally causes congenital hearing loss in infants between 6 and 12 months old.
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This virus makes both children and adults susceptible to other infections and often hearing loss (both congenital and acquired). It is estimated that approximately two-thirds of HIV-positive kids have sensorineural hearing loss.
- Measles (Rubeola). While this virus has, for the most part, been eradicated in the United States thanks to vaccinations, it does occasionally make a small comeback in areas where vaccinations are not the norm. This virus can pose a serious risk to hearing health, often causing profound hearing loss.
- Mumps. In the same viral family as measles, this virus has also been linked to hearing loss. In some cases, the hearing loss can be reversed.
- Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). This virus is in the herpes family and can affect the nerves of the auditory canal and other areas of the face and head. This, in turn, can cause hearing loss. In some cases, the hearing loss can be reversed or minimized with treatment and medication.
The good news is that science is making great strides in preventing, identifying, and managing viruses like these to help keep us healthy and hearing well. The most important step you can take, besides washing your hands, is to follow physician recommendations for testing if you are pregnant, have a child showing symptoms of hearing loss, or a virus, or you are showing signs of a virus.
If you find yourself with sudden hearing loss, contact your hearing healthcare provider or physician to determine the reason, viral or other. The sooner it is identified and the reason treated, the better chance of avoiding permanent hearing loss.