Loss of hearing in only one ear is a widespread problem and deserves as much attention as bilateral hearing loss (loss in both ears). It can affect a person’s quality of life, communication and social skills and it is not unique to a specific age group. Children affected by unilateral hearing loss can have later speech development, shorter attention span and difficulty concentrating. The reasons behind unilateral hearing loss are various, both acquired and hereditary. There are also a number of cases where the cause remains unknown.
What is unilateral hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be sensorineural (usually permanent) and conductive, usually treatable and reversible. Conductive hearing loss is common to occur in the ear canal or middle ear and some causes include infections, fluid or earwax build-up. Sensorineural hearing loss affects the inner ear or ear nerve. Unfortunately, it is not treatable but a variety of hearing aids exist that can help in managing hearing impairment. Depending on the particular case, a specialist can recommend different treatments to improve the condition or a suitable type of hearing aid to help in coping with it.
Unilateral hearing loss is a mild to profound hearing loss affecting only one ear. People suffering from this kind of condition have problems following conversations especially in noisy environments and locating the direction of the sound.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss
The most common reason for hearing loss is advanced age but it can also be a result of various other sources. Hearing loss in one ear can be a genetic condition or acquired during birth. It can also be due to infections, head trauma or various diseases later in life such as meningitis, mumps, measles etc. Many medications have also been proven dangerous for hearing such as some chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics. Apart from all these, however, one of the most widespread enemies of hearing is noise. Continuous exposure to noise could be detrimental to hearing and cause both gradual and sudden hearing loss.
Hearing aids for unilateral deafness
The recommended hearing aids for single sided deafness are usually CROS, bone anchored and bone conduction hearing aids. CROS hearing aids transmit the signal from the hearing to the impaired ear via a tiny microphone and amplifier. The CROS hearing aid resembles two behind the ear hearing aids connected with one another.
Bone conduction and bone anchored hearing aids (baha) transfer the sound vibrations via the skull bone and deliver them directly to the inner ear. While the first type is usually attached to a headband, the baha requires surgical intervention.
Protection and prevention
If you suspect a hearing difficulty with one of your ears, you should seek immediate help from an ENT specialist or audiologist in order to determine the type and cause of the condition and to prescribe the most suitable treatment or hearing aid.
To preserve the existing hearing in your impaired ear and your healthy ear, it is advisable to avoid noisy environments or wear appropriate ear protection when that is not possible.