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. Patients have to go through a very tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently disregarded. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to remember. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and decreasing side effects is so important for this reason. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

In the past 20 years, considerable advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment option has its own distinctive 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 hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

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

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

Side effects of chemotherapy often vary from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a substantial effect on the specific side effects. Most people are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These types of therapies are most often utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers also.

Scientists believe 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. This can trigger hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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

When you’re battling 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:

  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Regrettably, 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 take a fall.
  • Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.

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

So what should you do?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing exam.

Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:

  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to get rapid treatment.
  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.

So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. This might mean simple monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s essential to pay attention to your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may 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 monitor your symptoms and treat them appropriately.

Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But with the right plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find 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.

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