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. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as insignificant. 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 meaningful and prosperous as possible.

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

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, substantial developments in cancer treatment have been made. The development of some cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But, generally speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

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 all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance issues? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

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

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

Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. Side effects might also vary according to the particular mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many people 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 hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many instances, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most commonly utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers also.

Scientists think 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 cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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

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

  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently linked to balance problems which can also be an issue. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
  • Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
  • Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially separated.

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

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.
  • It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.

So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. This could mean simple monitoring or it may include a pair of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It may not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Your hearing health is important

It’s critical to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, consult your care team. Your treatment might not be able to be altered 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 induced by chemotherapy. But with the correct plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.


Common Chemotherapy Drugs Seem to Increase Hearing Loss in Some Adults

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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    Dr. Laura Padham, Audiologist

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