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 very hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But it’s important to remember that, for a lot of cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s crucial to talk to your care team about decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more fully, for instance, if you discuss potential balance and hearing issues that could develop post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

In the past 20 years, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

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

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

What is chemotherapy?

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

  • Sores in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Loss of hearing
  • Tiredness and fatigue

Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects may also vary based on the particular mix of chemicals used. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like 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 hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? The answer is frequently yes.

So, what type of chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. These types of therapies are most commonly utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers too.

Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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 combating cancer. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Someone 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. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you are feeling socially separated.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. Tinnitus is frequently linked to balance problems which can also be a problem. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.

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?

You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re battling cancer. But it’s beneficial 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:

  • If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to get rapid treatment.
  • Become a patient of 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.
  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it substantially easier to detect hearing loss in the future.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. This might mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss usually affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It may not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Your hearing health is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, talk to your care team. You might not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely track your symptoms and treat them appropriately.

Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But if you consult 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.