Can You Develop Hearing Loss From Chemotherapy?

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

Dealing with cancer is terrible. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to remember. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and minimizing side effects is so important because of this. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what happens next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

In the past couple of decades, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided 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.

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 all cancer treatments lead to hearing and balance issues? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the leading treatment option for a wide range of cancers. But chemotherapy can cause some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Hearing loss
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to vary from person to person. The particular combination of chemicals also has a significant effect on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many cases, 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 (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers too.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.

Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still pay attention to hearing loss

When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your biggest concern. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important:

  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-induced hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Well, unfortunately, the answer is 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, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to neglected hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.

You’ll want to talk to your care team about decreasing other health concerns 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 it’s important to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Here are several things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it significantly easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • 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.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. You may need hearing aids or you may just need your hearing to be tracked.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.

Your hearing health is important

Paying attention to your hearing is essential. Discuss any worries you may have about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing with your care team. You may not be able to alter your treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But with the correct plan, and a little help 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.