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Unilateral Hearing Loss - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Unilateral hearing loss is when someone experiences reduced or no hearing in any one of the ears. This type of hearing loss is very common.

Published At September 5, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 20, 2023

What Is Unilateral Hearing Loss?

Unilateral hearing loss is when hearing in one of the ears is within normal limits, and the other side has reduced hearing or, in some cases, complete hearing loss. The hearing loss can range from mild to severe. This condition can be present from the time of birth or may develop during later stages of life. This means that this can affect newborns to adults. The onset of this condition can be sudden or gradual.

What Is Single-Sided Deafness?

This is a type of unilateral hearing loss in which the hearing in one ear is normal or near to normal, and the other has severe hearing loss. As a result, the affected person can hear with one ear only (monaural hearing). Single-sided deafness may also be called unilateral deafness.

What Causes Unilateral Hearing Loss?

A unilateral hearing loss can occur as a result of many causes, such as:

  • This hearing loss may be inherited from the family (hereditary or genetic).

  • It can occur as a result of trauma or injury to the head.

  • Any abnormality of the outer, middle, or inner ear by birth.

  • It can be caused due to chronic infection or illness affecting the ear.

  • Unilateral hearing loss can be caused due to exposure to loud noises or explosion sounds which can injure the inner ear structures.

  • Syndromes may affect hearing.

  • Unilateral hearing loss can occur as a result of maternal illness, Meniere’s disease, microtia, and mastoiditis.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Unilateral Hearing Loss?

The signs and symptoms of unilateral hearing loss are listed below:

  • Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing sound) in one ear.

  • They have difficulty hearing with the impaired ear.

  • They prefer the unaffected ear over the other on the phone or in conversation.

  • Have trouble localizing where the sound is from.

  • Difficulty in understanding conversation in a noisy place.

  • Feeling fatigued from listening at the end of the day.

  • They may ask other people to repeat the conversation for them.

  • Playing music and television on a louder volume.

How Does Unilateral Hearing Loss Affect Hearing?

The human brain perceives the location of the sound when both the ears hear and send the signal to the brain and when any one of the ear's hearing is affected, it affects the quality of hearing.

Losing the hearing of one ear poses various challenges such as:

  • Difficult to Locate Where the Sound Is Coming From - The brain locates where the sound is coming from according to which ear hears the sound first, so when one hears the sound only with one ear, it will be challenging to locate the origin of the sound.

  • Difficult to Understand the Conversation in a Crowd - When a person has unilateral hearing loss, it is difficult for the brain to interpret a conversation from other noises that are heard simultaneously.

  • Struggle Multi-Tasking - Unilateral hearing loss can increase the load on the brain, leading to listening fatigue. So when there is noise when you are trying to do something, the brain loses its focus very quickly.

  • Difficult to Tell How Loud a Sound Is - The brain understands how loud a sound is when received through both ears, so when only one ear can hear, it is difficult to know if the sound is too loud.

What Are the Treatment Options for Unilateral Hearing Loss?

The treatment of hearing loss depends on the severity of the hearing loss and the condition which causes it.

The treatment for unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness includes:

  • Hearing Aids: A hearing aid is a device that is used most commonly given in patients with mild to moderate unilateral hearing loss. This device increases the volume of the incoming sound so that it is audible and can compensate for the reduced hearing ability.

  • Contralateral Routing of Signal (CROS) Devices: A CROS device contains two separate devices which look like a hearing aid. One part of this device is a hearing aid which is worn on the better ear, and the other is worn in the affected ear, which acts as the microphone and collects the sound and sends it to the better ear. This device will not help you in localizing the sound but will help you receive the sound from the affected ear and hence improves the overall hearing experience.

  • Cochlear Implant: The cochlear implant is placed surgically inside the ear. This has a part placed inside the ear and a part placed outside the ear both work together to bypass part of the ear that causes difficulty in hearing and directly stimulates the nerve.

  • Bone Conduction Hearing System: This device has an external sound processor that is attached to a headband or a surgical implant. The external sound processor picks up the sound from the affected side of the ear and sends it to the better-hearing ear by bone conduction. This bone conduction hearing system does not help you hear from the affected side but will provide sound awareness on the poor hearing side.

  • Frequency Modulation (FM) System: FM systems use radio waves to send signals from a microphone to a receiver. The FM system helps you hear the voice more loudly and clearly when there are background noises. FM systems are advantageous for school children to hear the teacher speak.

How to Prevent Unilateral Hearing Loss?

Unilateral hearing loss may be acquired during their lifetime by following some wrong practices like:

  • Playing music at a high volume while using earphones or earbuds.

  • Going near loud sound sources without any ear protection.

In such cases, unilateral hearing loss or deafness can be prevented to some extent by taking appropriate precautions and preventions, like playing music at a lower volume and using earplugs when you know that you are going to be exposed to loud noises.

When to Consult a Doctor?

You should consult a doctor when you have:

  • Dizziness.

  • Sudden deafness.

  • Earache.

  • Chronic tinnitus (ringing or buzzing sound).

Conclusion

Unilateral hearing loss is quite a common condition seen. This could be caused due to various reasons like some medical conditions, injury, or exposure to loud noise. There are various aids to help to overcome this condition, like using devices that assist you in correcting the hearing loss. In some cases, the hearing loss reverts back to normal after some time on its own. But when you experience hearing loss, consider getting a medical opinion that will help you get treatment as early as possible and may avoid the long-term complications from it.

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Dr. Syed Peerzada Tehmid Ul Haque
Dr. Syed Peerzada Tehmid Ul Haque

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)

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