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. As a result, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as trivial. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s crucial to speak with your care team about minimizing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past couple of decades. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. 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 in some cases, they’re used together. 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 kills cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment option for a wide range of cancers. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can produce some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)

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

Does chemo produce hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? 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 (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists aren’t exactly certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially proficient at causing harm to the delicate hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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 a worry when you’re fighting cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are significant reasons why the health of your hearing is important:

  • Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing 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: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Somebody who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.

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

What’s the solution?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. 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. This will make it substantially easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • Initiate a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it 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 treat and manage your hearing loss. This may mean simple monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.

It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.

Caring for your hearing is important

Paying attention to your hearing is crucial. Talk over any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment may not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get more rapid treatment.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. 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.

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