Does Chemotherapy Cause You to 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 frequently dismissed. 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 meaningful and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and reducing 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 problems that could occur post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has advanced considerably in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment option has its own unique strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance problems? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. 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 lead to some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular combination 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 example. But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused 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 related hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.

So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). 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 delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re fighting cancer

Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re battling cancer. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
  • Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Sadly, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!

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

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Establish a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
  • Establish a relationship with a hearing professional. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
  • If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to get rapid treatment.

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. You may need hearing aids or you may just need your hearing to be tracked.

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s crucial to pay attention to your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment may not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you make a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.

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.