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 very difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often dismissed. 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 managing and minimizing side effects is so significant for this reason. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past 20 years. The development of certain cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But, generally 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 sometimes, they’re used in tandem. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.

Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

What is chemotherapy?

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

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

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular combination of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

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 hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is frequently yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers too.

Scientists aren’t exactly certain how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly proficient at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.

Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re fighting cancer

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

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Unfortunately, yes. Tinnitus is often connected with balance issues which can also be a problem. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected 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 more anxiety and depression.
  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. Lots of different conditions can be aggravated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.

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

So what should you do?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing exam.

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

  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more in depth knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it substantially easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. You might require hearing aids or you might simply need your hearing to be monitored.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is due to chemo. It may not necessarily have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is crucial. Discuss any worries you might have about how chemotherapy could impact your hearing with your care team. You might not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. 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.