Does Chemotherapy Cause You to Lose Your Hearing?

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

There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so essential for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you talk about potential balance and hearing problems that could develop after chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, considerable advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Each treatment option has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.

Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Hearing loss
  • Nausea
  • Mouth sores

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo produce hearing loss?

Hearing loss isn’t the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often yes.

So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers as well.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re fighting cancer

When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your most pressing concern. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. Lots of different conditions can be aggravated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-induced hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently linked to balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
  • Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with neglected hearing loss. Somebody who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.

You’ll want to speak with your care team about reducing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.

So what should you do?

You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re fighting cancer. But don’t let that 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. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
  • If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain fast treatment.
  • Establish a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You might require hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be tracked.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is caused by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be effected.

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s essential to pay attention to your hearing health. Talk over any worries you may have about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing with your care team. Your treatment may not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you make a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.

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.