Can You Develop Hearing Loss From Chemotherapy?

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

Dealing with cancer is terrible. Patients have to go through a very hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often ignored. But for a large 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.

This means it’s important to speak with 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 example, you’ll be better prepared for what happens next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, significant 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, broadly speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Each treatment option has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. 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? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment option for a wide variety of cancers. But chemotherapy can bring on some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:

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

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular mix of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most often utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers as well.

Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still keep your eye on hearing loss

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

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Hearing loss has been known to lead to social isolation. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, getting the correct treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.

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

So what should you do?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing exam.

Going to a hearing specialist will help you do several things:

  • 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 considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you detect 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.

So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But there are treatment solutions. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You may require hearing aids or you may just need your hearing to be tracked.

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s essential to take care of your hearing health. Discuss any worries you may have about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing with your care team. You may not be able to alter your treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them appropriately.

Chemotherapy can trigger 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.

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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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