Can You Develop 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 hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And, of course, you want a very full and happy life!

Talking to your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so important because of this. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you talk about potential balance and hearing problems that could develop post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will utilize one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

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

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 is a combination of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can create some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Hearing loss
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Mouth sores

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular combination of chemicals also has a considerable 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’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss isn’t the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.

So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most often 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 skilled at causing harm to the delicate hairs in your ear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.

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

  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently connected with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially isolated.

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

What’s the solution?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s worthwhile 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:

  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Begin a relationship with a hearing specialist. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more complete understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, regardless of the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. This could mean basic monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s crucial to take care of your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you make 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.