Does Chemotherapy Make You 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. Patients have to go through a really difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But it’s critical to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!

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

Available cancer treatments

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

There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

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

Chemotherapy – what is it?

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

  • Sores in the mouth
  • Hair loss
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Hearing loss
  • Vomiting

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to differ from person to person. Side effects may also change depending on the specific combination of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.

So, what type of chemotherapy frequently 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 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 delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

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

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

  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Somebody who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.
  • Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the result of chemo-induced hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!

Reducing 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.

So what should you do?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. 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 several things:

  • It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
  • Establish a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have 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 that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. You may require hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be monitored.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s essential to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, consult 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.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you talk to 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.