Does Chemotherapy Make You 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. As a result, patients receiving cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s essential to talk to your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has progressed significantly in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of certain cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

There are unique 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 lead to hearing and balance issues? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the leading treatment option for a wide array of cancers. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Loss of hearing
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

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

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny 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 battling cancer

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

  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become tedious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Sadly, yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance issues which can also be a problem. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.

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

So what should you do?

You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re fighting cancer. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Here are several things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
  • It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more in depth picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This could mean simple monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.

Your hearing health is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. Talk over any worries you may have about how chemotherapy could impact your hearing with 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.

Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.