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 terrible. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as trivial. 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, of course, you want a really full and happy life!

Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so significant because of this. 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 fully enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

In the past couple of decades, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But in general, doctors will use 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 determine the best course of treatment.

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

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the main treatment option for a wide variety of cancers. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:

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

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. Side effects may also vary according to the specific combination of chemicals used. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers as well.

Scientists aren’t really certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly skilled at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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

Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re fighting cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are considerable reasons why the health of your hearing is important:

  • Social isolation is frequently the outcome of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-induced hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.

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

What’s the solution?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing exam.

Visiting a hearing specialist will help you do several things:

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

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. 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 might mean basic monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

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

Your hearing health is important

Paying attention to your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, consult your care team. You might not be able to alter your 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 talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop 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.

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