Hearing loss is a pervasive medical condition that 1 in 8 people navigate in the U.S. Impacting over 40 million people, hearing loss has various causes and can be experienced differently. Impairment can be mild to severe and affect one ear more than the other. Single sided – also known as unilateral – hearing loss is impairment in one ear and severe forms can be referred to as single-sided deafness. This type of hearing loss (like all types of hearing loss) should be addressed and treated as soon as symptoms are identified!
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition among older adults. There are several factors that can contribute to its development including:
- Existing medical conditions: such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke increase the risk of hearing impairment.
- Exposure to loud noise: one time or consistent absorption of increased levels of noise can cause permanent damage. People are easily exposed to loud noise while listening to music, in the workplace, sports arenas, concerts etc.
- Aging: known as presbycusis, structural change that naturally happens over time can impact hearing
Other causes are head and/or neck injuries, viral or bacterial infections, and genetic history. These factors disrupt the ears and brain’s ability to process sound which involves:
- Outer Ear: the most visible part of the ear collects soundwaves from the environment which travels down the ear canal and lands on the eardrum.
- Middle Ear: the ossicles – three connected bones – help push the soundwaves further into the inner ear.
- Inner Ear: the cochlea – filled with thousands of hair cells and fluid – translates soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to process.
Damage to any of these components interrupts this process, making it difficult to hear and understand incoming sound information. Most commonly, the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged which prevents them from helping the brain translate soundwaves. Because these hair cells do not regenerate, the damage and resulting hearing loss is permanent.
Single-Sided Hearing Loss
As previously described, both ears play an integral role in absorbing and processing sound. Hearing loss in one ear means that you have less capacity to identify and register sound. This causes:
- Reduced ability to locate sound: it becomes difficult to hear and know where sounds are coming from. The brain typically uses both ears to locate sound – the ear that absorbs the sound waves determines the direction of where the sound is originating from. So only being able to hear out of one ear affects the brain’s ability to easily locate the sound.
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise: noisier settings provides more sound for the brain to process which distracts from focusing on a conversation. Only having one ear to take in sound, including background noise, makes it even more difficult to filter through all of this sound.
- Struggling with volume: hearing through both ears also allows the brain to register the accurate volume of sound. Single sided hearing loss effects volume perception.
- Cognitive overload: because the brain has to do more work to process sound, this can overload cognitive function causing it to take longer to understand what you are hearing. This may make it challenging to focus on and complete daily tasks with ease.
Single-sided hearing loss is treated the same way general hearing loss is treated and it is important to intervene as soon as you notice symptoms.
Fortunately, there are several useful ways that hearing loss is treated. The first step in addressing your hearing health is scheduling an appointment for a hearing test. Conducted by a member of our team, hearing tests involve a noninvasive (and painless) process that measures hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you may be experiencing.
The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. For single sided hearing loss and depending on the degree, there are a few options:
- Moderate hearing loss may simply require a typical hearing aid worn on the affected ear
- CROS (contralateral) hearing aids: designed for people with severe hearing loss in one ear and includes a transmitter on the affected side and a receiver on the other ear. This system works to detect sound through the affected ear and route it to the functional ear.
- BiCROS hearing aids: this type of hearing aid works in the same way but is for people with moderate hearing loss in one ear.
If you believe you are experiencing a hearing loss, contact us today to schedule an appointment!