Can You Get Hearing Loss From Chemotherapy?

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 difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often ignored. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and minimizing side effects is so essential for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you talk about potential balance and hearing problems that could arise after chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has progressed substantially in the past 20 years. 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 combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

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

Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mix of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment option for a wide array of cancers. But chemotherapy can bring on some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Here are a few of these side effects:

  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of hearing
  • Mouth sores
  • Tiredness and fatigue

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

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is frequently yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on various forms 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 harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are significant reasons why the health of your hearing is important:

  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Social isolation is frequently the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, receiving the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially separated.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.

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

What’s the solution?

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

Going to a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:

  • Establish a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.
  • If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain rapid treatment.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more complete understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This could mean simple 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 due to chemo. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be impacted.

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s critical to take care of your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to your care team. You may 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 induced by chemotherapy. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you make a plan that will help you get 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.