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 hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often ignored. But it’s essential to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s crucial to talk to your care team about decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past couple of decades, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been accomplished. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. 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 problems? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the primary treatment option for a wide range of cancers. But chemotherapy can produce some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:

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

Every patient reacts 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 are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.

Does chemo produce hearing loss?

Hearing loss isn’t the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often yes.

So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most commonly 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 general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially proficient at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.

Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss

Hearing loss might 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 while you’re battling cancer:

  • Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, getting the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially separated.
  • Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to untreated hearing loss. Someone who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
  • Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the outcome of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. Tinnitus is frequently associated with balance problems which can also be a problem. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.

Reducing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.

So what should you do?

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

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

  • Initiate a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it significantly easier to identify hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to obtain fast treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.

So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. 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. This could mean basic monitoring or it may include a pair of hearing aids.

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

Caring for your hearing is important

Taking good care of your hearing is essential. Discuss any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment may not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. 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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