The Little-Known Complications of Single-Sided Deafness

Man suffering from single-sided hearing loss is only experiencing one half of the world because he can't hear the other.

Unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness, is more regular than people realize, prominently in children. Age-related hearing loss, which worries many adults sooner or later, tends to become lateral, to put it simply, it affects both ears to some extent. As a result, the public sees hearing loss as being black and white — somebody has healthy hearing in both ears or reduced hearing on each side, but that dismisses one particular form of hearing loss altogether.

A 1998 research estimated approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that number has increased in that past two decades.

What’s Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Causes It?

As the name suggests, single-sided hearing loss indicates a reduction in hearing only in one ear. The hearing loss may be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, deep deafness is potential. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing at all and that individual is left with monaural sound quality — their hearing is limited to a side of their human body.

Reasons for premature hearing loss vary. It may be caused by injury, for instance, someone standing next to a gun firing on the left may get moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease can lead to this problem, as well, for example:

  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Measles
  • Microtia
  • Meningitis
  • Waardenburg syndrome
  • Mumps
  • Mastoiditis

No matter the cause, a person with unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing sound.

Direction of the Sound

The brain utilizes the ears almost just like a compass. It identifies the direction of sound based on what ear registers it first and at the maximum volume. When a person talks to you while positioned on the left, the brain sends a message to turn in that way.

Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the sound will only come in one ear no matter what direction it originates. In case you have hearing in the left ear, your mind will turn left to look for the noise even if the person talking is on the right.

Pause for a second and consider what that would be similar to. The sound would always enter 1 side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you know where a person speaking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound management is catchy.

Honing in on Audio

The mind also employs the ears to filter out background noise. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the sound that you want to focus on, to listen to a voice. The other ear handles the background noises. That is why at a noisy restaurant, you can still concentrate on the dialogue at the dining table.

Without that tool, the mind becomes confused. It is unable to filter out background sounds like a fan running, so that is everything you hear.

The Ability to Multitask

The brain has a lot happening at any one time but having two ears enables it to multitask. That is the reason you can sit and read your social media sites while watching Netflix or talking with family. With just one working ear, the brain loses that ability to do one thing while listening. It must prioritize between what you hear and what you see, so you usually lose out on the conversation around you while you browse your newsfeed.

The Head Shadow Effect

The mind shadow effect describes how certain sounds are unavailable to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the head and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the journey.

If you’re standing next to a person having a high pitched voice, then you might not understand what they say unless you turn so the good ear is facing them. On the other hand, you might hear somebody having a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they create longer sound waves which make it to either ear.

Individuals with only minor hearing loss in just one ear tend to accommodate. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a buddy talk, for instance. For those who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work around that yields their lateral hearing.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.