Does Chemotherapy Cause You to Lose Your Hearing?

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

Coping with cancer is awful. 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 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.

Talking to your healthcare team about controlling 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 discuss potential balance and hearing problems that could develop post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

In the past 20 years, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But in general, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment option has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do hearing and balance issues 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 blend of strong chemicals. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can produce some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Hearing loss
  • 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 not so many people are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.

So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. These types of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers as well.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially 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 pay attention to, even when you’re battling cancer

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a worry when you’re fighting cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:

  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. Many different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • 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, unfortunately, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. You don’t want to fall when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!

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

So what should you do?

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: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Going to a hearing specialist will help you do several things:

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it considerably easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
  • Become a patient of 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.
  • It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You might need 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 caused by chemo. It may not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s essential to pay attention to your hearing health. Talk over any concerns you may have about how chemotherapy could affect your hearing with your care team. You might not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely track your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the correct 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.

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