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. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But it’s essential to keep in mind that, for a lot of cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!

This means it’s crucial to talk to your care team about decreasing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. 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.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to combat 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 determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

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

  • Loss of hearing
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss

Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant effect on the specific side effects. Most people are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. 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 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 various forms 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 little delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. 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 might not seem like that much of a concern when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are considerable reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently associated with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
  • Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you are feeling socially isolated.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected 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 make matters worse.

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

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain fast treatment.
  • Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This may mean simple monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

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

Your hearing health is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might 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.

Hearing loss can be caused 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. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.