Can You Get Hearing Loss From Chemotherapy?

Adult woman suffering from hearing loss after having chemotherapy treatments discussing symptoms with her doctor.

Coping with cancer is terrible. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. And, of course, you want a very full and happy life!

Talking to your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so important because of this. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been accomplished. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will combat 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 determine the best course of treatment.

Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance problems? Usually, 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. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is often the primary treatment choice for a wide range of cancers. But chemotherapy can create some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth sores

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. Side effects may also change based on the particular mix 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 related hearing loss.

Does chemo produce hearing loss?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.

So, which chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on numerous forms of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

Even if you’re battling cancer, you should still keep your eye on hearing loss

When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss might not seem like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are significant reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:

  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
  • Social isolation is frequently the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become tedious to do daily 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 lead to tinnitus too? Unfortunately, yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!

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

What’s the solution?

You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re fighting cancer. But it’s beneficial 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:

  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • It will be easier to obtain prompt treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. You might need hearing aids or you might simply need your hearing to be monitored.

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s critical to pay attention to your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might affect 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 track your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you formulate 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.