Does Chemotherapy Make You Lose Your Hearing?

Adult woman suffering from hearing loss after having chemotherapy treatments discussing symptoms with her doctor.

Dealing with cancer is horrible. Patients have to go through a really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently disregarded. But it’s important to keep in mind that, for a lot of cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!

This means it’s essential to talk to your care team about decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more fully, for instance, if you discuss potential balance and hearing issues that could develop after chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past 20 years. The development of some cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But generally, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment option has its own unique strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do all cancer treatments lead to hearing and balance problems? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the primary treatment choice for a wide variety of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can cause some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Hearing loss
  • Hair loss

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. Side effects may also vary according to the particular combination of chemicals used. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.

So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These types of therapies are most commonly utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers too.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re battling cancer

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a concern when you’re battling cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant:

  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Regrettably, yes. Tinnitus is frequently associated with balance problems which can also be an issue. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss has been known to lead to social isolation. This can exacerbate many different conditions. In other words, getting the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you are feeling socially separated.
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Somebody who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is added anxiety and depression.

Minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.

What’s the solution?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t allow that to stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing test.

Here are several things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:

  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This might mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is due to chemo. It may not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Caring for your hearing is important

Paying attention to your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to your care team. You may not be able to alter your treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them appropriately.

Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the correct plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.


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