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Nasopharyngeal cancer and hearing

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This page is about how nasopharyngeal cancer can affect your hearing. You can find the following information

 

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Nasopharyngeal cancer and hearing

Sometimes treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer may affect your hearing. Hearing loss can be caused by swelling in the tube that connects the ear with the back of your nose. This is usually temporary. Or it may be caused by damage to the sensory cells of your ear and nerves. Unfortunately this type of hearing loss is likely to be permanent. Hearing problems can also be due to ear infections. If you’ve had radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer you are more likely to get ear infections.

Coping with changes to your hearing

Although usually temporary, hearing problems can be hard to cope with. Your daily activities may be affected. It can become harder to have face to face or telephone conversations. Listening to music or the radio and watching TV may be more difficult. You may get fed up with asking people to repeat things. This can be a worry when talking to your doctors – you may be concerned that you are missing vital bits of information.

It is important to tell people that your hearing is not so good. They can then speak a little louder, and more clearly. They may also need to face you when speaking as this often helps. Try to avoid having background noise when talking to people.

If your hearing loss is likely to be permanent your doctor will probably refer you to an audiologist. The audiologist can provide further treatment and help to best suit your own particular needs.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

 

How your sense of hearing works

Every sound produced disturbs the air around it, causing vibrations that travel through the air as sound waves. Your outer ear picks up these vibrations and directs them towards the inner part of your ear. Then they are converted to nerve impulses. These impulses travel to the brain via the auditory nerve, where the brain enables you to hear them as sound.

 

Treatments that can affect your hearing

Some treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer may affect your hearing. It may disrupt the way the ear directs sound. This is called conductive hearing loss. Some types of surgery for head and neck cancer cause swelling around the eustachian tube. This is part of your middle ear and connects up to the back of your nose. The swelling can cause conductive hearing loss, which makes it difficult to hear soft sounds. Your hearing usually gets back to normal once the swelling goes down. Radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer can also cause this type of hearing loss.

Your hearing may alter because of damage to the sensory cells of your ear and nerves. These send messages to the brain. This is called sensorineural hearing loss. This type of loss makes it difficult to hear soft sounds, and also to tell some sounds apart. Occasionally this type of hearing problem is caused by radiotherapy treatment and may be permanent.

Some chemotherapy drugs can also affect hearing. A drug called cisplatin can affect your ability to hear high pitched sounds. This usually gets better on its own after your treatment has finished.

Hearing problems can also be due to ear infections. If you’ve had radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer you are more likely to get ear infections. The middle ear becomes inflamed and can fill with fluid. There are different ways to treat this type of ear infection. Your doctor might suggest treatment with drugs to reduce the infection and inflammation, and possibly the use of a hearing aid. Or you may have a small tube (grommet) put in to drain the fluid. To put the grommet in you need a small operation.

 

Coping with changes to your hearing

Although usually temporary, hearing problems can be hard to cope with. Many of your daily activities are affected. It becomes harder to have face to face or telephone conversations. Ways of relaxing such as listening to music or the radio and watching TV may be more difficult or less enjoyable. You may get fed up with asking people to repeat things. This can be a worry when talking to your doctors, as you may be concerned that you are missing vital bits of information.

It is important to tell people that your hearing is not so good. They can then speak a little louder, and more clearly. They may also need to face you when speaking as this often helps. Try to get rid of background noise, such as the TV or radio, when talking to people. Ask them to turn the noise down, and explain why you’re asking.

If your hearing loss is likely to be permanent your doctor will probably refer you to an audiologist. This is a professional trained in hearing loss. An audiologist will look at the degree of hearing loss you have. And they can provide further treatment and help to best suit your own particular needs.

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Updated: 2 September 2014