Can You Get 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 in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But it’s essential to keep in mind that, for a lot of cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s essential to talk to your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be better prepared for what happens next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

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

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? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment choice for a wide array of cancers. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can produce some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of hearing
  • Nausea
  • Mouth sores

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular combination of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But that’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often yes.

So, which chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These kinds of therapies are most often utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers as well.

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 cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re fighting cancer

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to 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.
  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially separated.

Reducing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.

So what should you do?

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

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

  • Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This might mean basic monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s essential to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment may not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

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