If you or a loved one are in the midst of cancer treatment, you are likely familiar with some of the side effects. One of the lesser-known side effects can be one of the most difficult to treat: hearing loss. According to Cancer.net, a variety of cancers and cancer treatments can, unfortunately, cause hearing problems like hearing loss, tinnitus, and, in some cases, permanent ear damage. Learn about the connection between cancer treatment and hearing loss, and make sure to keep your healthcare provider in the loop if you experience hearing issues during or after cancer treatment.
Cancer Treatment and Hearing Loss
Before you begin a cancer treatment, ask your doctor if that specific treatment is known to cause hearing loss. If it is, talk to your doctor about routine monitoring of your hearing so that you can see what effects are taking place throughout the process. Typically hearing will be assessed before treatment (a “baseline” hearing test) and then after each round of treatment. This is the best way for your medical team to track hearing damage as it happens and modify the treatment if necessary.
Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment for many cancer patients. It’s often included in treatment regimens for breast cancer, lung cancer, and different types of childhood cancers. Although chemotherapy is a popular and effective cancer treatment, it can damage hearing through the use of ototoxic ingredients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ototoxic chemicals can damage the sensory hair cells in the inner ear. As a result, many patients experience hearing loss or dizziness. If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, you might notice tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which is often the first sign of a problem. Make sure to notify your doctor or hearing professional – quick action increases your chances of treating the problem.
According to Cancer.net, radiation therapy works by damaging cancer cells. However, it can also damage healthy cells and tissue in the treatment area. For that reason, radiation therapy can damage the inner ear, middle, and outer ear, especially when radiation is applied to the head, ear, or brain. CureSearch, a nonprofit aimed at ending childhood cancer, explains that radiation side effects can include outer and inner ear inflammation and earwax and fluid buildup. Radiation can also lead to stiffening of the bones in the ear, resulting in hearing loss and discomfort.
Chemotherapy drugs are common culprits when it comes to cancer treatment and hearing loss, but other common medications can also lead to hearing loss and inner ear damage. Many cancer treatment regimens combine multiple ototoxic medications. As a result, the risk for hearing loss and tinnitus can increase dramatically. According to Cancer.net, there are several medications used in cancer treatment that can lead to hearing loss:
- Certain aminoglycoside antibiotics like erythromycin, neomycin, gentamicin, and streptomycin, often used to treat infections
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain, including ibuprofen and naproxen sodium (Aleve)
- Medications used to regulate blood pressure like metoprolol (Lopressor)
- Some anti-nausea medications including promethazine (Phenergan)
It’s easy to feel helpless and discouraged if you’re experiencing hearing loss as a result of cancer treatment. Be sure to have your hearing tested after your cancer treatment ends. If you notice symptoms like tinnitus, hearing loss, or pain and discomfort, there are several treatment options:
- If you’re experiencing tinnitus, try avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco products, all of which can worsen tinnitus. It’s also important to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest and relaxation. Fatigue and stress can make the problem much worse. Treatment options for tinnitus include Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), hearing aids, counseling, and drug therapy.
- For those experiencing moderate to severe hearing loss, hearing aids can be a great option. They amplify everyday sounds, which makes them easier to hear.
- For severe inner ear damage, consider cochlear implants. This surgical option implants a medical device that essentially replaces the function of a damaged inner ear, relieving severe hearing loss.
If you would like to learn more about cancer treatment and hearing loss, reach out to Sound Relief Hearing Center in Colorado or Arizona. We are independently owned, so we always have the patient’s best interests at heart. Plus, our state-of-the-art technology ensures that our patients receive the best treatment available. With our unparalleled excellence in the hearing industry, our dedication to patient care, and our commitment to helping people control and conquer their hearing issues, you can count on Sound Relief Hearing Center. To learn more about us, please browse our website, visit our YouTube channel, or give us a call at 720-259-9962. You can also schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our audiologists. We look forward to hearing from you!