Does Chemotherapy Cause You to Lose Your Hearing?

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

Dealing with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And, of course, you want a very full and happy life!

This means it’s essential to speak with your care team about reducing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what happens next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Each treatment option 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 hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is often the main treatment option for a wide variety of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can produce some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Loss of hearing
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth sores

Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects may also change depending on the particular mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects are often pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that isn’t always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is frequently yes.

So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

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 unclear. This can trigger hearing loss that is often irreversible.

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

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

  • Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance problems which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to neglected hearing loss. Somebody who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is added anxiety and depression.
  • Social isolation is frequently the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.

You’ll want to talk to your care team about minimizing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer.

So what should you do?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:

  • It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more in depth understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But there are treatment solutions. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This might mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s crucial to pay attention to your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get more rapid treatment.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But with the correct plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get 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.