Are You Losing Hearing in One Ear?
In the majority of cases, hearing loss is bilateral - as in it affects both ears simultaneously. However, for some people, hearing loss can be unilateral; affecting only one ear. Below, you'll learn more about unilateral hearing loss, why it happens and what treatments are available.
What are the symptoms of unilateral hearing loss?
The main symptom of unilateral hearing loss is an inability to hear clearly, but only in one ear. Individuals with the condition may only hear muffled sounds or, in some cases, cannot hear anything at all in the affected ear. As a result, those experiencing the condition may have to turn the volume up on media devices or ask friends and family to repeat statements frequently throughout a conversation.
In addition to the above, there are some symptoms that those with unilateral hearing loss particularly seem to experience. Many begin to favor their unaffected ear, to the point where they will turn their head to follow sounds with the unaffected ear. In addition, many people with unilateral hearing loss find it particularly challenging to follow conversations in a busy environment; this symptom can occur in bilateral hearing loss but is especially noticeable when only one ear is affected.
What are the causes of unilateral hearing loss?
As with bilateral hearing loss, there are two different types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear and or hearing-related nerves. It is most commonly caused by:
• Frequent exposure to loud noises (known as noise-induced hearing loss)
• Medication side effects
• Ménière's disease (a disorder of the inner ear, which also causes balance issues and tinnitus)
Obstructive hearing loss involves the passage of sound being blocked by some form of obstruction in either the middle ear or the ear canal itself. Common causes of obstructive hearing loss include:
• Ear infections
• Tumors within the ear
• Injury to the ear
What are the treatment options for unilateral hearing loss?
First and foremost, you will need to visit a hearing health professional to identify the cause of your unilateral hearing loss, as this will govern the direction of any future treatment. In some cases, unilateral hearing loss can be remedied simply by solving the cause of the condition; for example, if you have an ear infection, then a course of antibiotics should clear the infection and allow your hearing to return as a result.
However, many cases of unilateral hearing loss are simply a case of a person experiencing hearing loss related to age or noise exposure, but for some reason, are only affected in one ear. If you or your audiologist suspects that this may apply to you, then you will usually first undergo a hearing test to confirm the diagnosis, and a suitable treatment plan will be recommended. Most commonly, the same treatment that is used for bilateral hearing loss will be suggested: a hearing aid.
How do hearing aids for unilateral hearing loss work?
The hearing aid you will require depends on the cause of your hearing loss.
For sensorineural hearing loss, simply wearing a single, conventional hearing aid is an option. However, there are also specific hearing aids designed for people with unilateral hearing loss. These hearing aids utilize a system called Contra-Lateral Routing of Signal (CROS), which works as follows:
• A receiver is fitted to the ear without hearing loss.
• A microphone is fitted to the ear that is experiencing hearing loss.
• When a sound is heard by the receiver, it is transferred to the microphone sitting in the affected ear, which gives the user the impression that the sound is being heard in both ears.
A similar system, known as BiCROS, can be used in instances of unequal hearing loss - for example, if your left ear has mild hearing loss, but your right ear has severe hearing loss.
Your audiologist will be able to discuss which of the above options might be most suitable for you, which is why it's crucial you seek treatment if you notice any symptoms of hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can have several impacts on your life, including health, emotional, personal and professional. Luckily, there are a variety of hearing aids available – in different styles and sizes – that can help you hear your best again.
To learn more about Hear for You Hearing & Balance Center and how we can help you hear better, get in touch at 401-475-6116 today.