Changes in your hearing

Nasal and paranasal sinus cancer and its treatment can cause changes to your hearing. 

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 in 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

Conductive hearing loss

Sometimes treatments for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer may affect your hearing. This is often a type of hearing loss called conductive hearing loss. This is due to changes in the way sound travels through the middle ear.

If you’ve had surgery involving the jaw (maxilla), you could have swelling around the eustachian tube. This tube is part of your middle ear and connects with the back of your nose. It balances the pressure in the ear with the outside world.

The swelling around the eustachian tube can cause conductive hearing loss due to a build up of fluid in the middle ear. This problem usually improves but can be treated with a ventilation tube or grommet if it persists.

Radiotherapy treatment can also affect the eustachian tube and cause this type of hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Your hearing may change because of damage to the sensory cells of your ear and nerves. These send messages to the brain. This is called sensorineural hearing loss.

Occasionally this type of hearing problem is caused by radiotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss is likely to be permanent.

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect hearing. A drug called cisplatin can affect your ability to hear high pitched sounds.

Your doctor will tell you if there is a chance that your hearing might be affected.

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 - you may be concerned that you are missing vital bits of information.

When talking to people it is important:

  • that you tell people your hearing is not so good
  • to ask them to speak a little louder and more clearly
  • they may need to face you when speaking as this often helps  
  • to get rid of background noise, such as the TV or radio - ask them to turn the noise down, and explain why

If your hearing loss is likely to be permanent your doctor will probably refer you to an audiologist. An audiologist is a health professional trained in the non medical aspects of hearing loss. An audiologist will look at the degree of hearing loss you have. And they can give you treatment suited to your own particular needs.