What is Single-Sided Hearing Loss?

Cyndi Connolly

We human beings are rarely as symmetrical as we like to think. In cases of hearing loss when both ears are affected, or bilateral hearing loss, our levels of hearing capabilities often vary from one ear to the other. Of course, in some cases of hearing loss, only the one ear is impacted at all. These cases are referred to as unilateral hearing loss or single-sided hearing loss. Sometimes, when hearing loss is profound, it can be called single-sided deafness (SSD).

What is single-sided hearing loss? 

Hearing loss in only one ear instead of two is less common than bilateral hearing loss, but it also happens to around 60,000 people annually in the United States. Though people with single-sided hearing loss still retain hearing abilities in one ear, the impacts of hearing loss in even a single ear can be incredibly destabilizing and requires processing and medical attention.

Causes of single-sided hearing loss

There are many varying causes that might bring about hearing loss in a single ear. Genetic hearing loss may present in this way. It may be a result of a trauma or physical injury to the head, like a traumatic brain injury. Some viral or bacterial infections and Ménière’s disease can cause hearing loss in only one ear. Another cause of this presentation of hearing loss is an acoustic neuroma, which is a benign tumor that might grow on the auditory nerve. 

What are its impacts?

Though it may sound preferable to hearing loss in both ears, living with normal hearing in one ear and hearing loss in the other can be a challenging scenario to navigate. 

Because of the brilliant way our bodies have evolved, our two ears give us a biological advantage. Being able to hear from both ears helps us to locate where sound is coming from. In a process known as binaural hearing, our brains compare the sound between ears and calculate the source’s distance and location. It’s how you can do things like being prepared for a car whizzing by a curb or locate that waterfall on your hike. When hearing loss affects one or both ears, this process is compromised. 

Noisy environments can be very challenging for people with single-sided hearing loss. Having use of two ears assists us in the effort to filter out background noise and hone in on what we really want to hear. For example, the conversation with the person in front of us rather than the chatter of the couple behind us. When one ear’s hearing is damaged, we have trouble focusing on the important sound because we aren’t as easily able to identify unimportant ones. 

Though sound is still received by one ear, our brains are set up to hear from two. This is the foundation of the above two complications, but it also manifests trouble in detecting the loudness of a sound. When a noise of the same loudness (or decibel level) in two ears, the brain accurately predicts its volume, something it isn’t able to do when single-sided hearing loss is present. 

All presentations of hearing loss increase the amount of effort we use in communicating. ‘Listening fatigue’ is a common issue among people who acquire hearing loss later in life as you are being asked to implement entirely new structures of connecting with others. 

Single-sided hearing loss treatment

Treatment of single-sided hearing loss varies due to the severity of the diagnosis. In cases of profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be appropriate. In most cases when some levels of hearing are present in the affected ear, a standard hearing aid is a wonderful intervention. 

In some cases, there is little to no hearing left in the impacted ear. A CROS hearing aid can be of great benefit here. A special type of hearing aid created specifically for single-sided hearing loss, a CROS hearing aid transmits sound from the healthy level of hearing in the ‘good’ ear over to the impacted ear. In the past, this was done by a connected wire transmission. Now, though, wireless transmission allows for a more subtle look. If there is some hearing loss in the ‘good’ ear, a BiCROS hearing aid can suit that scenario. 

If you are ready to experience the life changing benefits of hearing loss treatment, contact us today to schedule an appointment!