Hearing loss is common, especially in older adults. Usually, when people experience hearing loss, it’s “binaural,” which means loss of hearing in both ears. However, some people experience hearing loss in only one ear. This condition is known as unilateral hearing loss or, in more severe cases, single-sided deafness.
Like binaural hearing loss, unilateral hearing loss can occur gradually or suddenly. In either case, you should immediately consult with an audiologist or ENT.
Hearing loss in one ear, even when gradual, can present unique challenges. Depending on the severity, you can experience any of the following issues:
Our bodies are designed with two ears because the brain uses both ears to detect the location of a sound. Similar to visual depth perception from binocular vision (two eyes vs. one).
Our brains are accustomed to filtering noises that aren’t what we are actively concentrating on, but this becomes more difficult without two healthy hearing ears. People with single-sided deafness find it difficult to zero in on a single voice in noisy environments.
Our ears work in unison to detect sounds. If we hear a particular sound of a certain decibel with two healthy ears, that sound is heard more loudly than if the same sound, at the same decibel, is heard with only one ear.
Combining all of the factors mentioned above, living with unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness requires much more cognitive energy, leading to listening fatigue. The more noise, the harder the brain must work to detect and filter relevant noise.
Due to how soundwaves travel, high-frequency sounds don’t “bend.” For example, suppose a high-frequency sound (such as sounds made from the letters “S” or “F”) originates on the side of the head with hearing loss. In that case, that high-frequency sound will never bend around the head to the good ear. This is known as “head shadow” and can result in some speech sounding muffled because the affected person can’t hear the high-frequency sound.
It’s possible that mild to moderate hearing loss in one ear can be treated with a hearing aid. Single-sided deafness, on the other hand, is usually permanent but treatable with devices worn in the functioning ear. Come into either location of Sioux Falls Audiology Associates. We can perform tests to determine if you have hearing loss in one of your ears and to what degree. For patients with single-sided deafness, we usually recommend a CROS, BiCROS, or bone-anchored hearing system.
Contralateral routing of sound (CROS) hearing aid systems are designed for people with normal hearing in one ear and near-total hearing loss in the other. A CROS does require wearing a device in both ears as it detects sound originating on the side of the near-deaf ear and then, using a transmitter, directs sound to the good ear.
People with moderate-to-severe hearing loss in their functional ear are candidates for BiCROS hearing aids. These devices function the same as a CROS, but sound transmitted to the functional ear is amplified via a standard hearing aid.
It’s important to understand that neither a CROS nor BiCROS restores hearing to a deaf ear. Meaning you will be made aware of sound from all around you, but you will not hear in stereo and, as a result, will not be able to localize sound.
For some, CROS hearing aids are not helpful. An alternative solution is a bone-anchored hearing system, which requires surgical implants. These devices detect sound and then send vibration to the inner ear via the skull bone. This method can be beneficial if problems in the middle ear and ear canal prevent sound waves from reaching the inner ear, otherwise rendering a standard hearing aid ineffective.
Again, it’s imperative that you immediately consult with an audiologist or ENT if you experience unilateral hearing loss, whether gradual or sudden, as this could be a sign of a serious medical condition. And treating hearing loss has other benefits, such as reducing depression and delaying the onset of cognitive decline.
So contact us today if you suspect hearing loss in one of your ears or want more information about unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness. Improving your hearing is not just about hearing better; it’s about improving your relationships and the quality of your life.