When was the last time you had your hearing checked? Most likely, your answer will be “I don’t remember.” Unfortunately, this is exactly the case. Most Americans don’t even think about their hearing until trouble hits their home.
Hearing plays a key role in communicating both with the world around us and with other people. Hearing health is the key to a successful and happy life. Everyone should monitor their hearing health and seek immediate help at the first sign of a problem. An important fact is that hearing loss does not always start in both ears. Very often, the problem only exists in one ear. In a case like this, people are in no hurry to go to an audiologist, hoping for a speedy recovery. This is a serious mistake!
Unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness. What’s the Difference?
The development of disorders can occur both from the moment of birth and throughout a person’s life. At the same time, with age, the probability of hearing loss increases several times! For example, by age 75 or older, one in two Americans has some form of hearing loss.
Deterioration or complete loss of hearing in one ear, depending on the severity of the disease, entails various difficulties in the perception of sounds. It is important to understand that the problem in a similar situation affects only 1 ear, while the second is completely healthy.
As with bilateral hearing loss, unilateral hearing loss is classified into the following types:
The degree of development of the problem also affects its classification. So, a person with a mild, moderate, or severe degree has unilateral hearing loss. When the type of hearing loss is profound or near-profound it is already single-sided deafness. Both problems have their own characteristics, especially when choosing a method of treatment and recovery. Let’s discuss this in a little more detail.
What are the causes of hearing loss in one ear?
There are many reasons that can lead to the development of hearing loss in one ear. The problem is often difficult to identify because it can be the result of a combination of several factors. Our leading audiologist, Dr. Zhanneta Shapiro has compiled a list of the main causes of hearing loss in one ear that you should pay special attention to:
Various infections, especially ear infections
Head or ear injuries
Cardiovascular system problems
Pay attention to your health, stress less, move more, and take vitamins.
The danger of sudden hearing loss in one ear
Particular attention should be paid to sudden hearing loss in one ear. This is a very common problem among patients, especially young ones. Its development proceeds rather quickly (hence the name) and has serious complications. This is exactly the case when time is of the essence.
If you suddenly develop a hearing loss, you should immediately contact a specialist for qualified assistance. Doing so will increase your chances of improving the probability of recovering your hearing loss. Indeed, according to statistics, about 15% of cases in which the patient did not receive help on time ended in deafness in one ear. Do not repeat the mistakes of others!
What are the consequences of losing hearing in one ear?
To fully understand how important the functioning of one ear is, it is necessary to understand the functioning of the entire hearing system. The presence of two independently working “receivers” of signals directed in different directions ensures the identification of the sound source. This allows all audio signals to be received and properly processed.
A person is orienting in space thanks to the coordinated work of the brain and two ears. In addition, the quality of the captured signals is greatly enhanced. This process of auditory perception is called binaural hearing. Of course, hearing loss in just one ear disrupts the well-coordinated work of the senses. The person begins to experience the following difficulties:
The problem of the sound source identification
Because no signal is received in both ears (one of which should work with a delay), it is difficult for the brain to determine which side the sound is coming from.
Difficulty in determining the loudness
By the same principle, it is impossible to adequately assess the sound volume with one ear. The acoustic signal sent to both ears seems to be stronger.
Decreased perception of sounds in noisy environments
Using the resources of only one ear, the brain has difficulty separating out unnecessary noise. The process of focusing on someone’s speech in such conditions can be difficult.
Cognitive load on the brain
It arises as a consequence of any of the above difficulties. The brain receives less initial information. There is a lot of extra material that the brain needs to filter out. As a result, it already has trouble processing and is able to miss some important audio information. The ability to handle multiple cases at once is significantly reduced.
Head shadow effect
This is a common problem for people with unilateral hearing loss. Its essence lies in the fact that when a sound source is located at a certain distance from a non-hearing ear, the head itself becomes an object that dampens a sound wave, which is unable to reach a healthy ear. This is typical for high-frequency sounds. As a result, a person simply stops hearing and perceiving certain sounds, for example, “f”, “s”, “sh”, etc.
People with such a problem may perceive women’s or children’s speech worse, due to its higher frequency nature. Some sounds can be heard much quieter than others, or utterly indistinguishable.
Treatment methods for hearing loss in one ear
As I already mentioned, the most correct solution when losing hearing in one ear is to immediately seek help from a specialist. The audiologist will perform the necessary hearing tests and prescribe the correct hearing treatment.
Even in a case of mild to moderate hearing loss, a person might still benefit from hearing aids. Of course, the audiologist will select the most suitable model based on the diagnosis and the patient’s personal wishes.
The severe and profound degree of the problem requires a more serious approach. Depending on the individual course of hearing loss, the use of one of the following hearing systems is prescribed:
This hearing aid system is designed for near-total hearing loss. The system consists of two devices placed in each ear. The device in the deaf ear picks up sounds “intended” for it and directs them to the device in the healthy ear. For this reason, there is practically no sound amplification.
This system of two devices is similar to the previous one with one fundamental difference. It is intended for people with hearing loss on the better side. The latter receives not only the signal from the transmitter but also the amplified sound of the hearing aid.
Bone conduction hearing system. This device requires surgery. From the name, it becomes clear that it is attached to the bone of the skull through which sound vibration is sent directly to the ear. Bone conduction hearing aids become indispensable when the sound wave is unable to reach the inner ear.
Cochlear implants. The surgeon places these special devices directly into the cochlea during the operation. As a result of the operation, the patient begins to hear external sounds.
It should be noted that only a specialist after a complete examination of the patient is able to prescribe such devices.
Hearing loss in one ear is a very common problem among Americans. It is important to take action at the first onset of symptoms to make sure that the problem does not get worse. Keep in mind there’s always treatment available!
About Dr Zhanneta Shapiro
Dr Zhanneta Shapiro received her Masters of Science from Brooklyn College in 2005 and completed her Doctorate of Audiology from Florida University in May 2008. Her graduate training was in various hospitals in the tri-state area and a residency period completed at Ear Nose and Throat Associates of New York. [ Learn More ]