Let’s imagine you go to a rock concert. You’re cool, so you spend the entire night up front. It’s enjoyable, although it’s not good for your ears which will be ringing when you get up in the morning. (That’s not as enjoyable.)
But what if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? The rock concert is probably not to blame in that case. Something else must be going on. And you might be a bit alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.
What’s more, your hearing may also be a little wonky. Your brain is used to processing signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.
Why hearing loss in one ear results in problems
Generally speaking, your ears work as a functional pair. Your two outward facing ears help you hear more precisely, similar to how your two forward facing eyes help with depth perception. So when one of your ears stops working correctly, havoc can result. Among the most prevalent impacts are the following:
- Identifying the direction of sound can become a real challenge: You hear somebody attempting to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t find where they are. When your hearing disappears in one ear, it’s really challenging for your brain to triangulate the origin of sounds.
- When you’re in a loud setting it becomes very hard to hear: With only one functioning ear, loud spaces like restaurants or event venues can abruptly become overwhelming. That’s because your ears can’t determine where any of that sound is originating from.
- You can’t tell how loud anything is: In the same way as you need both ears to triangulate direction, you kind of need both ears to figure out how loud something is. Think about it like this: If you can’t figure out where a sound is coming from, it’s impossible to detect whether that sound is simply quiet or just distant.
- You tire your brain out: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can get overly tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s failing to get the complete sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working extra hard to make up for it. This is especially true when hearing loss in one ear happens suddenly. This can make a lot of activities during your daily life more exhausting.
So how does hearing loss in one ear occur?
Hearing experts call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” While the more common kind of hearing loss (in both ears) is typically the consequence of noise-related damage, single-sided hearing loss is not. So, other possible causes should be assessed.
Some of the most common causes include the following:
- Other infections: One of your body’s most common reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that triggers inflammation can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
- Abnormal Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in extremely rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the result of abnormal bone growth. And when it grows in a certain way, this bone can actually impede your hearing.
- Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will usually be very obvious. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (among other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. And it occurs when there’s a hole between the thin membrane that divides your ear canal and middle ear. The result can be really painful, and usually triggers tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
- Meniere’s Disease: When somebody is coping with the degenerative condition called Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease advances asymmetrically: one ear may be affected before the other. Menier’s disease often comes with single sided hearing loss and ringing.
- Ear infections: Swelling usually happens when you’re experiencing an ear infection. And this swelling can block your ear canal, making it extremely hard for you to hear.
- Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear and may sound a bit more intimidating than it usually is. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a serious (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should consult your provider about.
- Earwax: Yes your hearing can be obstructed by excessive earwax packed in your ear canal. It’s like wearing an earplug. If this is the situation, don’t grab a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can jam the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
So how should I address hearing loss in one ear?
Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will differ depending on the root cause. Surgery could be the best choice for specific obstructions like tissue or bone growth. A ruptured eardrum or similar issues will normally heal naturally. Other problems like too much earwax can be easily removed.
Your single-sided hearing loss, in some circumstances, may be permanent. We will help, in these cases, by prescribing one of two potential hearing aid options:
- Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass most of the ear by making use of your bones to transmit sound to the brain.
- CROS Hearing Aid: This kind of specially designed hearing aid is primarily made to address single-sided hearing impairment. These hearing aids are able to identify sounds from your plugged ear and send them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very effective not to mention complex and very cool.
Your hearing specialist is where it all starts
If you can’t hear out of both of your ears, there’s most likely a reason. It’s not something that should be dismissed. It’s important, both for your well-being and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. So start hearing out of both ears again by scheduling an appointment with us.