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. As a result, patients getting cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as insignificant. But it’s critical to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

Talking to your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so important for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you discuss potential balance and hearing problems that could occur post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has advanced considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

There are distinctive 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 all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance issues? Well, every patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the main treatment choice for a wide range of cancers. But chemotherapy can produce some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:

  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Loss of hearing
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Vomiting

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant impact 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 individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Does chemo produce hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? 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 commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

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

When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not feel like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:

  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Hearing loss has been known to lead to social isolation. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. Tinnitus is often connected with balance issues which can also be a problem. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.

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

So what should you do?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing test.

Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do several things:

  • It will be easier to get fast treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more in depth picture 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, no matter the cause. But there are treatment solutions. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You might require hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be monitored.

It should be mentioned, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It may not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. Talk over any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy could affect your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might 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.

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.