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

Coping with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But for a large 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 meaningful and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s essential to speak with your care team about decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more fully, for instance, if you talk about potential balance and hearing issues that could develop after chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

In the past 20 years, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been accomplished. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But in general, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance issues? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide range of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But chemotherapy can cause some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:

  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Loss of hearing
  • Vomiting

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects might also change based on the specific mix of chemicals used. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is chemo-induced 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? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists aren’t exactly certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially skilled at causing harm to the delicate hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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

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

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause 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.
  • Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be aggravated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to neglected hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.

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

What’s the solution?

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

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

  • Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.
  • If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain rapid treatment.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. But there are treatment options. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You may require hearing aids or you may simply need your hearing to be monitored.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, talk to your care team. You may not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely track your symptoms and treat them appropriately.

Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But with the correct plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.

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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.

Medical information dates as new research comes out all the time - if you have a concern about your hearing, please call us.

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