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 horrible. Patients have to go through a really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently dismissed. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to remember. And, of course, you want a very full and happy life!

This means it’s essential to speak with your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about possible 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.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past couple of decades. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Each treatment option has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. 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? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can produce some unpleasant side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of hearing
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. Side effects might also vary according to the specific combination of chemicals used. 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 induced hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many instances, yes.

So, which chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various kinds of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

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 damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

Even if you’re fighting cancer, you still need to keep your eye on hearing loss

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a concern when you’re fighting cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance problems which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.

Minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it substantially easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • Initiate a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. This might mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be effected.

Your hearing health is important

It’s critical to pay attention to your hearing health. Talk over any worries you might have about how chemotherapy could affect your hearing with 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.

Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the right plan, and a little help 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.

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