Hearing loss does not always affect two ears; in some cases it only affects one ear. Hearing loss in one ear is known as unilateral hearing loss, the opposite of bilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in both ears).
People with unilateral hearing loss often have normal hearing in the other ear. However, even if the other ear works, hearing loss in one ear can still cause difficulties with hearing in general. For instance, people with unilateral hearing loss often have problems with localizing sound (determining where sound is coming from), focusing on sounds of interest in noisy places, hearing speech and other sounds from faraway or from another room.
Most children with hearing loss in one ear are able to develop speech and language normally without special intervention but some children may experience problems with language development such as speech delays and difficulty pronouncing certain words and sounds. Difficulties caused by hearing loss in one ear can vary from person to person.
Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear
Unilateral hearing loss is caused by a number of different factors. Some causes may be easy to determine whereas others may be difficult to detect. Some of the most common causes of hearing loss in one ear include:
Hearing loss can be genetic. To determine whether unilateral hearing loss is inherited, it is best to seek professional help from a geneticist. Gene testing is recommended for people with hearing loss in the family to determine the risk factors of passing it on during pregnancy.
- Problems with the Middle Ear
This is a common cause of unilateral hearing loss in children. Common problems with the middle ear that may cause hearing loss include: otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear), earwax buildup, fluid buildup, and middle ear infections.
- Prolonged or constant exposure to loud noises that are 85 decibels and above
- Head injury or ear injury
- Illnesses (e.g. measles, meningitis, HIV/AIDS, meniere’s disease, and mumps)
- Ototoxic Medication (aspirin, loop diuretics, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics).
- Congenital causes
The state of the mother during pregnancy can have a direct effect on the child’s hearing. Congenital causes of hearing, loss in one ear may include: illness or infection during pregnancy, drug/alcohol intake, premature birth, and birth asphyxia.
Treatments of Unilateral Hearing Loss
The treatment for hearing loss in one ear will highly depend on the causes, type, and degree of hearing loss
Majority of hearing loss cases is sensorineural, a type of hearing loss that affects the hair cells in the cochlea. In most cases, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible and as such, it cannot be treated with surgery or medication. It can, however, be managed with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive listening devices.
For sensorineural unilateral hearing loss caused by a virus, medication may work for treatment but it is not always guaranteed to be effective.
Conductive unilateral hearing loss, on the other hand, can be surgically corrected depending on the underlying problem. Since conductive hearing loss is typically caused by malformation of the ear canal and problems with the internal structure of the middle ear, surgery may be able to correct these problems.
If it is caused by fluid buildup infections, antibiotics are typically administered to treat the infection.
In cases where restoration of hearing is not possible, there are ways to manage unilateral hearing loss. One common method is through the use of Contralateral Routing of Offside Signals hearing aids (CROS).
CROS hearing aids are designed specifically to manage unilateral hearing loss. It works by transferring sounds from the damaged ear to the hearing ear to help with a person’s overall hearing.
CROS hearing aids come in various types. The most common type has two units that are connected either through wires or wirelessly. They work by transferring sounds from one ear to another.
Regular hearing aids can also be used for the management of unilateral hearing loss by amplifying sound for the hearing-impaired ear.
The method of management depends significantly on the personal circumstances of the person with unilateral hearing loss. It is best to work with an audiologist to find the most suitable treatment option for your particular type and degree of hearing loss.