Can You Get Hearing Loss From Chemotherapy?

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

Dealing with cancer is horrible. Patients have to go through a really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But it’s essential to keep in mind that, for a lot of cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!

Talking to your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so important for this reason. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past 20 years, considerable developments in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, generally speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and in some cases, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

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

What is chemotherapy?

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

  • Loss of hearing
  • Nausea
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Vomiting

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to differ from person to person. Side effects may also vary based on the specific mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

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? The answer is often 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 various forms 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 not clear. This can trigger hearing loss that is often irreversible.

Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re fighting cancer

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a worry when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are considerable reasons why the health of your hearing is important:

  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially separated.
  • Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. 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.

What’s the solution?

You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re battling cancer. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing test.

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

  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to identify 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 picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
  • If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? 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. This may mean simple monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is crucial. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing, talk to your care team. You may not be able to alter your 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 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.