Hearing Services of Nashville

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 really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often dismissed. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. 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 reducing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for example, if you discuss potential balance and hearing issues that could develop after chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past couple of decades. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

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 determine the best course of treatment.

Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a mix of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is often the leading treatment option for a wide range of cancers. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of hearing
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
  • Mouth sores

Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant effect on the specific side effects. Most people are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Hearing loss is not the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, 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 typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. These kinds of therapies are most commonly utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers too.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly adept at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.

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

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:

  • Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Somebody who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.

Minimizing 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 battling cancer. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do several things:

  • It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Establish 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.
  • Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it substantially easier to identify hearing loss in the future.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, regardless of the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This may mean basic monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.

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

Your hearing health is important

It’s essential to pay attention to your hearing health. Discuss any concerns you may have about how chemotherapy could affect your hearing with your care team. You might not be able to alter your 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.
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