Tinnitus After Cancer Or Chemotherapy

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Cancer treatments have improved in recent years, but some of the most effective treatments can be associated with annoying and uncomfortable side effects like tinnitus. 

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no external source, and it’s characterized by a buzzing, humming, or ringing in the ears. It’s usually caused by hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, ear infections, and head injuries. But did you know that medications can also trigger tinnitus and hearing loss?

Some Medicines Can Cause Hearing Damage

If you read through the list of side effects of medications, you may notice that some have the potential to cause tinnitus or hearing loss. Medications that damage the fragile inner ear cells are called ototoxic. Some over the counter drugs, antibiotics, and common prescriptions are ototoxic – and so is chemo.

Chemotherapy Treatment and Tinnitus

Cancer treatment often involves chemotherapy, which is a powerful treatment that targets cancer cells. Various chemotherapeutic treatments are available – some are more likely than others to trigger hearing loss and tinnitus. Three of the most commonly prescribed cancer drugs are cisplatin, carboplatin, and oxaliplatin.

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Platinum based drugs are notorious for causing hearing changes or tinnitus. Less is known about the relationship between tinnitus and other chemotherapy drugs called taxanes. 

How Cancer Treatment Can Affect Your Hearing

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Chemotherapy drugs are designed to target rapidly multiplying cancer cells. Unfortunately, this highly effective treatment can also damage healthy cells – like those found in the inner ear. Inner ear cells are essential for transforming sound waves into electrical signals that our brains process as sound. Your inner ear is also home to the vestibular system that controls your sense of balance and movement.

When your auditory cells are compromised, you may experience hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems. These symptoms can be permanent or long-term. In some cases, prompt treatment can reverse damage. In other situations, cancer treatment can leave you with long-term hearing impairment and ringing in the ears. 

Which Cancer Treatments Are The Lowest Risk For Hearing Loss?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. The potential for hearing loss and tinnitus depends on several variables, including the kind of cancer and chemotherapy drugs you’re taking. Your chances of experiencing these complications can also be affected by age, genetics, pre-existing health conditions, and more. Ask your doctor if you are at high risk of developing hearing problems due to your cancer treatments.

Cancer Patients Are At Risk for Hearing Loss And Tinnitus

It’s known that patients with cancer are more likely to suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus brought about by chemotherapy drugs, but not everyone will experience these side effects. Your risk of hearing damage depends on your type of cancer, specific medications, dosage, and how long you’ve been exposed to chemotherapy treatment. 

Who Is At Risk For Developing Hearing Loss And Tinnitus From Cancer Treatment?

While not all cancer patients will develop hearing loss and tinnitus due to treatment, some people are at higher risk. Some risk factors that can contribute to developing these conditions include:

  • Receiving high doses of chemotherapy drugs
  • Receiving multiple cycles of chemotherapy
  • Being treated with chemotherapy drugs that are known to be ototoxic
  • Having a history of noise exposure or ear infections
  • Having pre-existing hearing loss or tinnitus

People With Head And Neck Cancer Are At Higher Risk

Chemotherapy treatments – especially if you’re using platinum drugs – can be ototoxic, and certain types of cancers increase this risk. If you have head and neck cancers like nasopharyngeal or laryngeal cancer, you have a much greater likelihood of developing hearing loss or tinnitus. Radiation therapy administered to the head or neck can damage the sensitive inner ear structures, leading to hearing changes. 

Hearing Tests Can Help You Monitor Your Hearing Health

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Cancer patients should monitor their hearing during treatment, especially if you are taking chemotherapy drugs that are known to have a high risk of causing tinnitus or hearing loss. Regular hearing tests and staying proactive about your hearing health can help you get prompt treatment and help minimize symptoms. 

Typically, children receiving chemotherapy treatment or taking known ototoxic medications have regular hearing tests. Adults are less likely to receive regularly-scheduled ototoxic monitoring, so hearing changes often go unnoticed among cancer patients.

If you’re concerned about the effect your cancer treatments may have on your ears, get your hearing tested regularly. Your doctor or audiologist can help you manage your hearing while treating your cancer.

How Often Should You Get Hearing Tests During Cancer Treatment?

Typically, cancer patients should have a hearing test before chemotherapy treatment begins, and then get regular hearing tests during treatment. The frequency of these exams can vary depending on your situation. Your care team will help you decide on the right schedule for hearing tests based on your circumstances. 

What Is The Best Treatment For Tinnitus Caused By Cancer Treatment?

Tinnitus treatment and management methods vary. Talk to the audiologists at Treble Health to find the technique that works best for you.

  • Hearing aids: Hearing aids can help amplify sounds, minimize distracting or unwanted sounds, and help keep your mind off tinnitus. For some people, using a hearing aid is most useful immediately following chemotherapy treatment, but for others, you might wish to wait until your hearing and tinnitus symptoms have stabilized after treatment.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy: Even though tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) doesn’t cure tinnitus, this method uses sound therapy and counseling to help you get used to the perception of tinnitus. This technique is good for reducing the stress and emotional aspects of tinnitus.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you develop coping strategies to manage the emotional and psychological effects of tinnitus and hearing loss. 

Tips For Cancer Survivors To Prevent Further Hearing Loss And Tinnitus

If your cancer journey has left you with changes in your hearing, be sure to protect your ear from further harm. 

  • Avoid exposure to loud noises: Loud noise exposure can further damage the fragile inner ear cells, which worsens hearing loss and tinnitus. Use good quality earplugs or noise-canceling headphones in loud environments. Better yet, avoid sharp, high-pitched, or loud sounds if you can.
  • Protect your ears from water: Good hygiene is vital, but getting water in your ears can cause irritation and infection – and ultimately, worsening hearing problems and tinnitus. Consider using earplugs or a swimming cap to protect your ears while swimming or showering.
  • Manage stress: Stress can worsen tinnitus symptoms. Try stress-reducing techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation to lessen the psychological impact of tinnitus.
  • Get regular hearing tests: Be proactive about your hearing wellness. Regular hearing tests can help detect changes in hearing so you can stay on top of your hearing health.

If you’re experiencing hearing loss or tinnitus and suspect it might be related to your cancer treatments, speak to your doctor right away. Consider the risks and benefits of your treatment options. Early intervention can help minimize damage to your hearing and boost your quality of life.

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