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. Patients have to go through a really difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often ignored. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so significant for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for example, if you talk about possible balance and hearing issues that could develop post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has progressed substantially in the past couple of decades. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, generally speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Each treatment option has its own unique strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.

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

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can create some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:

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

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant effect on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. 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? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. This can trigger hearing loss that is often irreversible.

Even if you’re battling cancer, you should still keep your eye on hearing loss

When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your biggest concern. But there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.

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

What’s the solution?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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

  • It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
  • Begin a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, regardless of the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This might mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change 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 right 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.