Can You Develop Hearing Loss From Chemotherapy?

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 very hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But it’s important to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And, of course, you want a really full and happy life!

Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so essential for this reason. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, 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, generally speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and in some cases, they’re used in tandem. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.

Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance problems? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the primary treatment option for a wide variety of cancers. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:

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

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

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various kinds of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists aren’t exactly 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 fragile hairs in your ear. This can trigger hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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

When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss might not seem like your biggest concern. But there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. Many different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become tedious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Somebody who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, 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 down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!

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

So what should you do?

You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re battling cancer. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing exam.

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

  • Become a patient of 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.
  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
  • It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. This could mean simple monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

It should be noted, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be effected.

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, consult 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 if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop 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.