Most people with hearing loss experience it in both ears. This is called bilateral hearing loss. With hearing loss in both ears, it’s often recommended that a person wear two hearing aids instead of just one. However, this becomes more debatable when a person only has hearing loss in one ear, or unilateral hearing loss.
Unilateral hearing loss occurs when a person has mild to severe hearing loss in one ear but normal hearing in the other. In cases where a person experiences significant to profound hearing loss in one ear, it is often referred to as single-sided deafness.
Since unilateral hearing loss is a more unique type of hearing loss, it can be more difficult to determine how to treat it. Continue reading to learn more about this hearing loss type, what causes it, and how hearing aids might be able to help.
Are you wondering what classification your hearing loss falls into? Learn more about The Three Classifications of Hearing Loss.
What is Unilateral Hearing Loss?
As noted, unilateral hearing loss is when a person has hearing loss in only one ear. Someone with this hearing loss can experience anywhere from mild to profound hearing loss in that ear. Depending on what caused the hearing loss, it can be conductive, sensorineural, or mixed.
Despite having normal hearing in one ear, poor hearing in the other ear can still significantly impact a person’s abilities to do the following:
- Hear conversations on the impaired side - While a person should be able to hear from the ear with normal hearing, it is often difficult to impossible for him or her to hear from the impaired side.
- Hear among background noise - A person may struggle to hone in on a certain sound amongst other background noise.
- Locate the source of a sound - A person may struggle to identify where a sound is coming from (also called localization).
- Process cognitive overload - A person may face difficulty hearing sounds while performing other tasks, which can lead to difficulty concentrating on those tasks.
- Perform binaural loudness summation - A person will likely have an impaired ability to process sounds through both ears, which can impact the overall ‘loudness’ of the sounds that a person hears.
Of its impacts, unilateral hearing loss most significantly impacts one’s ability to communicate. In instances with little to no background noise, a person with this hearing loss may appear to have normal hearing. However, when background noise is present, a person with this hearing loss will likely struggle to understand speech and, therefore, communicate with others.
Children born with this condition are often most significantly impacted, as they often acquire developmental speech delays and struggle to concentrate in school. Because of this, over a quarter of (25-35%) children with this loss are at higher risk for failing a grade in school, according to Boys Town National Research Hospital. As a result, they are also often misdiagnosed with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
What Causes Unilateral Hearing Loss?
Unilateral hearing loss can result from a variety of causes. In many cases, it results from sudden damage to the ear, such as head trauma or a viral/bacterial infection. In addition to sudden damage, the following conditions may lead to this hearing loss, among others:
- Ménière's disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
If you suspect that you could be experiencing this type of hearing loss, it’s important to consult your physician to identify the underlying cause, as many underlying causes require medical attention. Since the causes of this hearing loss are so broad, your physician may need to discuss your medical history with you and run some tests. From there, your physician can select the appropriate treatment.
If you’re hearing loss is not the result of aging or other common causes, your hearing loss may be genetic. Find out more about Understanding Genetic Hearing Loss.
How Can You Address Unilateral Hearing Loss?
First and foremost, your physician may recommend medications or surgery to treat the underlying cause of the hearing loss. This may help to improve the hearing loss, but in the case that it doesn’t, other measures may need to be taken to treat the hearing loss specifically.
For those with a more profound hearing loss, surgical options may include a bone-anchored hearing device, which calls for a titanium screw to be attached to the skull. An external device is then attached to that screw, which sends sounds from the side of the damaged ear to the good ear.
In other cases, a hearing aid may be the better option. For more severe conditions, a Contralateral Routing of Sound (CROS) hearing aid may be necessary. This device acts similarly to the bone-anchored hearing device, routing sound from the damaged side to the normal ear.
For those with a mild to significant hearing loss, however, a standard hearing aid may be able to help. To acquire a hearing aid appropriate for your loss, consider asking your physician for a hearing test. Your results will help you to select the hearing aid appropriate for your hearing loss.
How Can We Help?
If wearing hearing aids seems like the best way to treat your unilateral hearing loss, Advanced Affordable Hearing is here to help. Our mission is to help people like you to hear better at a price you can afford.
To get started, simply visit our Online Hearing Check. You can also call one of our customer service representatives at 1 (800) 804-0434 to help you get a general sense of your hearing loss and select the best hearing aid for you.