Hearing Health Blog

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 difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently disregarded. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there is 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 crucial to speak with your care team about reducing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past 20 years, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three standard 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 together. The best treatment course will be guided 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 is a combination of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment choice for a wide array of cancers. But chemotherapy can produce some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Here are several of these side effects:

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

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular combination of chemicals also has a considerable impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is frequently yes.

So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). 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 delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.

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

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a worry when you’re battling cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are considerable reasons why the health of your hearing is important:

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be a problem. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. This can exacerbate many different conditions. In other words, receiving the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially separated.
  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with untreated hearing loss. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.

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

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • 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.
  • Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This might mean simple monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It may not necessarily have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.

Your hearing health is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. Discuss any worries you might have about how chemotherapy might impact 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 cause hearing loss. 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.

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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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