Is Ear Ringing a COVID Vaccine Side Effect?

hearing problems and COVID-19

 Lara Antal / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • About 0.95% of people vaccinated for COVID-19 have reported tinnitus, or ear ringing, but there is not enough evidence to suggest tinnitus is caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Tinnitus is likely triggered by a preexisting condition or environmental stressor.
  • People who continue to experience tinnitus symptoms after vaccination should report their symptoms to their healthcare provider.

A small number of people are reporting ear ringing, referred to as tinnitus, after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Unlike body aches or fatigue, tinnitus is not officially listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a vaccine side effect. Experts say there's not currently enough scientific evidence to suggest the tinnitus cases are caused by vaccination.

Still, tinnitus reports have surfaced in both clinical trials and after authorized vaccination.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinical trials included six non-severe tinnitus cases within 28 days of vaccination, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later ruled they were unrelated to the shot. The U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database has documented 1,486 cases of tinnitus following vaccination with any brand, meaning 0.95% of vaccine recipients report experiencing the potential side effect.

Peter Gulick, DO, professor of medicine and infectious disease expert at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Verywell that the fear of experiencing tinnitus should not stop you from getting the vaccine. “After giving millions of people a [COVID-19] vaccine, tinnitus is not a red flag that popped up prompting scientists to say, ‘You know, this is kind of a big issue with COVID-19 vaccines,’” he says.

What’s Causing Tinnitus?

The British Tinnitus Association classifies tinnitus as a very rare COVID vaccine side effect, indicating fewer than 1 in 14,700 people in the U.K. have reported it. While there’s not a single explanation for the small number of tinnitus cases following vaccination, Gulick says a preexisting condition or a history of tinnitus could cause the ear ringing to act up.

“Tinnitus is not very common from COVID-19," he says. "But suppose somebody already has a preexisting problem in the ear. In that case, the virus—or the vaccine—can affect those little hair cells in the cochlea that are responsible for causing ear ringing or a little nerve irritation. Usually, you see tinnitus more often in somebody that's already had the problem. It's unlikely to start happening all of a sudden."

At least one researcher hypothesizes that in some people, the robust immune response triggered by vaccination might additionally trigger neuroinflammation, worsening any existing hearing issues, according to an article in Drug Discovery & Development.

Tinnitus Complaints Have Increased Throughout the Pandemic

Separate from vaccination status, people who already have tinnitus have seen their condition worsen during the pandemic. A November 2020 article in Frontiers in Public Health found 34% of people with preexisting tinnitus found their symptoms more bothersome as a result of pandemic-driven lifestyle changes.

An August 2020 study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine corroborates this, revealing that people who regarded the pandemic as stressful or nerve-wracking were more likely to report distressing tinnitus symptoms.

The authors of the November 2020 study suggested people may have noticed their tinnitus more while socially isolated from others. Dealing with social distancing restrictions exacerbated tinnitus in 25% of patients. About 86% of people with tinnitus reported being less social, and 58% were lonelier. People who reported being sadder or lonelier were more likely to report their tinnitus symptoms being more difficult.

What Should You Do if Your Ears are Ringing?

If you’re experiencing tinnitus after vaccination, keep your doctor aware of your symptoms, or consider logging your symptoms yourself on an app like the CDC's V-safe.

“Preexisting tinnitus is not a contraindication to getting the vaccine, but if you experience tinnitus after the first dose, and if it’s not going away, or it’s getting worse, then see what a doctor says before you consider your second dose,” Gulick says.

While there’s no official cure for tinnitus, your doctor can prescribe steroids or cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage symptoms. Your doctor can also report your symptoms to VAERS for data collection.

Research on tinnitus as a potential COVID-19 vaccine side effect is limited, so the best thing the public can do is continue to report any unusual or persistent side effects for possible causative effects between a symptom and the vaccine.

“If we want to see if a [symptom] is specific to one vaccine or another, we need to accumulate as much information as possible on it," Gulick says. "Without data, it's hard to see if tinnitus is going to be something permanent or not because we haven't studied it long enough to know.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Food & Drug Administration. Fact sheet for healthcare providers administering vaccine (vaccination providers). Updated April 23, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

  3. British Tinnitus Association. Coronavirus vaccines and tinnitus. Updated May 4, 2021.

  4. Beukes EW, Baguley DM, Jacquemin L, et al. Changes in tinnitus experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Front Public Health. 2020;8:592878. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2020.592878

  5. Schlee W, Hølleland S, Bulla J, et al. The effect of environmental stressors on tinnitus: a prospective longitudinal study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. J Clin Med. 2020;9(9):2756. doi:10.3390/jcm9092756