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 sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as trivial. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind. And, of course, you want a really 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. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has advanced substantially in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment method has its own distinctive 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? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can cause some unpleasant side effects. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Mouth sores
  • Hearing loss
  • Tiredness and fatigue

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. The particular combination of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Most individuals are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most commonly utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers too.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.

Even if you’re fighting cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of an issue when you’re battling cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can exacerbate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-associated hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Sadly, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.

Decreasing other health issues 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?

You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re battling cancer. But it’s important to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:

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

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. But there are treatment options. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This may mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.

Your hearing health is important

It’s critical to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment might not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop 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.