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

Dealing with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as insignificant. But it’s essential to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And, of course, you want a really full and happy life!

Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so important because of this. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might arise 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.

Available cancer treatments

In the past 20 years, substantial developments in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But in general, doctors will utilize 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 in some cases, they’re used in tandem. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.

Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the main treatment choice for a wide variety of cancers. But chemotherapy can cause some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:

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

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects may also vary depending on the specific mix of chemicals used. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many cases, yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as 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 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 adept at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

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

Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re battling cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. Tinnitus is frequently connected with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
  • Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially separated.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to untreated 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 likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.

What’s the solution?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.

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

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it substantially easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
  • If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain rapid treatment.
  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. You might require hearing aids or you may just need your hearing to be monitored.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is caused by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be effected.

Caring for your hearing is important

It’s crucial to pay attention to your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to your care team. You might not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you make 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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