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. Patients have to go through a very difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently dismissed. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so important for this reason. By discussing possible 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 completely enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, significant developments in cancer treatment have been accomplished. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will fight 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? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment choice for a wide range of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can produce some uncomfortable side effects. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Hearing loss

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a considerable impact 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.

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Hearing loss is not the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often yes.

So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on numerous forms of cancers but is most often 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 exact cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.

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

When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss might not feel like your most pressing concern. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:

  • Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the result of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. In other words, getting the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is added anxiety and depression.

You’ll want to speak with your care team about minimizing 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 worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Going to a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it substantially easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.

So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. You might require hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be monitored.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range 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

It’s crucial to take care of your hearing health. Talk over any worries you may have about how chemotherapy could affect your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to track 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.