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. Patients have to go through a very hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often dismissed. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to remember. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and decreasing side effects is so important for this reason. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be better prepared for what happens next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has advanced considerably in the past 20 years. The development of some cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But, generally speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and in some cases, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can produce some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:

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

Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. Side effects might also change based on the particular combination of chemicals used. Some of these side effects are often pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that isn’t always the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is frequently yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in 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 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 little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.

Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still pay attention to hearing loss

When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss may not feel like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is relevant:

  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
  • Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the outcome of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with neglected hearing loss. Someone who is battling 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 decreasing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.

So what should you do?

You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re battling cancer. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing test.

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

  • Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more complete picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.
  • It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Set a hearing baseline. This will make it significantly easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.

So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, regardless of the cause. But there are treatment solutions. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. You might need hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be monitored.

It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It might not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s critical to pay attention to your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment may not be able to change 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 formulate 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.