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. Patients have to go through a really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But it’s essential to remember that, for a lot of cancer patients, there will be 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 decreasing side effects is so significant because of this. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

In the past couple of decades, considerable developments in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some 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.

Each treatment method 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.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. 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 lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Hearing loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea

Side effects of chemotherapy often vary from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a considerable impact on the specific side effects. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced 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 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 typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists aren’t exactly certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially adept at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

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

Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are significant reasons why the health of your hearing is important:

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Social isolation is often 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.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to neglected hearing loss. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.

You’ll want to talk to your care team about minimizing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer.

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more in depth understanding 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 obtain rapid treatment.
  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it substantially easier to identify hearing loss in the future.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, unfortunately. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you treat and manage your hearing loss. You may need hearing aids or you might simply need your hearing to be monitored.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

Paying attention to your hearing is essential. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might 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 faster treatment.

Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop 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.