Does Chemotherapy Make You 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 difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently dismissed. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to keep in mind. 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 decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has advanced substantially in the past 20 years. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But generally, doctors will utilize one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment option has its own unique 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 destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is often the main treatment option for a wide range of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:

  • Sores in the mouth
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Nausea

Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects might also change based on the specific combination of chemicals used. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But that isn’t always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.

So, what type of chemotherapy frequently 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. 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 really sure 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 cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.

Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re battling cancer

Hearing loss may not seem like that much of a worry when you’re fighting cancer. 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. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance problems which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.

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

So what should you do?

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

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

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more in depth understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
  • If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.

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

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s crucial to pay attention to your hearing health. Discuss any worries you might have about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing with your care team. You might not be able to alter your treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But with the right 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.