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 dismiss cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as trivial. But it’s essential to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so important for this reason. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

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

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

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a mix of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is often the main treatment choice for a wide range of cancers. 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

Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular mix of chemicals also has a considerable effect on the specific side effects. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.

So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on numerous forms of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists aren’t really certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially skilled at causing damage to the delicate hairs in your ear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

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

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

  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to 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.
  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially isolated.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently connected with balance problems which can also be an issue. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!

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

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
  • It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This may mean basic monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It might not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Your hearing health is important

Paying attention to your hearing is essential. Discuss any worries you might have about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing with 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 cause hearing loss. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you formulate a plan that will help you get 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.