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. Patients have to go through a really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to remember. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s important to talk to your care team about reducing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has progressed significantly in the past 20 years. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But generally, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.

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

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the main treatment choice for a wide range of cancers. But chemotherapy can cause some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Here are a few of these side effects:

  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Hearing loss
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Nausea
  • Sores in the mouth

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many instances, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These kinds of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers also.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially skilled at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can trigger hearing loss that is often irreversible.

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

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

  • Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. 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. Lots of different conditions can be aggravated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-induced hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.

Decreasing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will most 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.

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

  • Initiate a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You might need hearing aids or you may just need your hearing to be tracked.

It should be noted, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It may not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Your hearing health is important

It’s crucial to take care of your hearing health. Talk over any concerns you may 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 faster treatment.

Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you formulate a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.

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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.


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