Immunize Your Hearing

Some health conditions that endanger your hearing and overall health are unavoidable, but others can be prevented. One of the best preventative steps is making sure all of your vaccinations are still effective, and getting boosters or new vaccinations as recommended by your primary care physician. The following are some common diseases that could put your hearing at risk and the vaccinations available to prevent them. As always, consult your physician for more detailed, personalized information and recommendations.

Pneumonia (pneumococcal disease)

Pneumococcal disease comes in many forms and can affect more than your lungs. More than half of middle ear infections are the result of pneumococcus bacteria, and severe forms of the disease can cause permanent hearing loss. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 13 forms of pneumococcal bacterial infection. The PCV13 vaccine is effective for adults 65 years and older, or adults under 65 with weakened immune systems. A different vaccine, PPSV23, protects against 23 forms of the bacteria and is intended for all adults 65 years or older deemed at higher risk of pneumococcal bacterial infection.

Meningitis

The bacterial form of this disease has been associated with hearing loss due to inflammation damaging the cochlear nerve that conducts sound from the ear to the brain for processing. Two kinds of meningitis vaccines are currently recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to protect at-risk adults against meningitis:

  • Meningococcal conjugate
  • Serogroup B

Ask your physician about getting vaccinated to find out if you are in a group deemed “at-risk” of contracting meningitis. These groups include (but are not limited to) those planning to travel overseas, entering the military, or diagnosed with an immune deficiency.

Measles/Mumps/Rubella

Measles can lead to several complications, including ear infections resulting in partial or complete hearing loss. Women who contract rubella (also known as “German measles”) in the early stages of pregnancy can pass the virus to the fetus, leading to birth defects that include deafness. A mumps viral infection can damage the cochlea (inner ear) and cause hearing loss or complete deafness in one or both ears.

The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended for all children starting between 12 and 15 months, with a second dose at four to six years old. Adults who were never vaccinated or who were born in or after 1957 should get one dose or more of MMR vaccine unless you are certain you received the vaccine as a child or actually had all three diseases. Any adult who does not have evidence of immunity should talk to their doctor about getting one or more doses of MMR vaccine especially before traveling internationally.

Whooping Cough (pertussis)

Irreversible hearing loss is among the potential complications from whooping cough.  You should have received your first DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine as part of a five-dose schedule administered again at ages two, four, six, and 15. A booster is available for adolescents and adults called Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) for anyone who didn’t get it as a preteen or teen. Expectant mothers should also receive a Tdap dose between 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy. Even adults who received DTaP and Tdap vaccinations and boosters on schedule should receive a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine every ten years.

Chicken pox (varicella zoster)

The chicken pox virus can damage hearing in children and adults. Older adults who had chicken pox in their youth may lose their hearing if the virus reactivates as shingles or as Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Two doses of the varicella vaccine are recommended for children, adolescents, and adults. Consult your medical history or ask your physician if you received a combination vaccine for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) between the ages of 12 months and 12 years old. The shingles vaccine (brand name Zostavax®) is recommended if you’re over 60 regardless of whether you know for certain you had chicken pox or not. A surprisingly large number of people contract chicken pox at some point in their lives without ever realizing it.

Flu (influenza)

Any temporary hearing loss due to influenza is usually the result of congestion and will go away once you recover. However, in some cases the virus attacks your ears directly, resulting in sudden and sometimes permanent hearing loss. Unlike the other vaccine options described above there are multiple seasonal flus, including H1N1 (i.e., “Swine” flu), H3N2 (i.e., “Dog” flu), and more. Each year the CDC calculates which flu viruses are likeliest and recommends appropriate vaccines based on that data. They generally suggest everyone six months or older receive a flu vaccine at the beginning of every flu season (starting in the fall through winter). Trivalent and quadrivalent shots are often made available to protect against multiple flu viruses with a single shot. Ask your physician which flu shots are available for the coming season that will best suit your health concerns.