Hearing Health Blog

Adult woman suffering from hearing loss after having chemotherapy treatments discussing symptoms with her doctor.

Coping with cancer is horrible. Patients have to go through a very tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently disregarded. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

Talking to your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so essential because of this. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for example, if you talk about potential balance and hearing issues that could occur after chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will fight 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? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

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

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Sores in the mouth

Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a substantial effect on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo produce hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers also.

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

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

Hearing loss may not seem like that much of a concern when you’re battling cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are significant reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:

  • 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 laborious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to untreated hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.

Decreasing 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.

So what should you do?

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

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

  • It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Establish a baseline for your hearing. This will make it significantly easier to identify hearing loss in the future.
  • Begin a relationship with a hearing specialist. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. You may need hearing aids or you may simply need your hearing to be monitored.

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

Your hearing health is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. Talk over any worries you might have about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment may not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.

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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.
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