Let’s pretend you go to a rock concert. You’re awesome, so you spend the entire night in the front row. It isn’t exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s fun, and the next day, you wake up with two ringing ears. (That part’s less fun.)
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 situation. Something else must be going on. And you may be a bit alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.
In addition, your hearing may also be a little wonky. Usually, your brain is processing information from both ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.
Hearing loss in one ear creates problems, this is why
Generally speaking, your ears work as a functional pair. Your two side facing ears help you hear more precisely, similar to how your two front facing eyes help with depth perception. So hearing loss in one ear can wreak havoc. Here are a few of the most prevalent:
- You can have trouble distinguishing the direction of sounds: 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 very difficult for your brain to triangulate the source of sounds.
- When you’re in a noisy setting it becomes really difficult to hear: Loud places like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with only one ear working. That’s because all that sound seems to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
- You can’t be sure how loud anything is: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to determine volume. Think about it like this: If you can’t figure out where a sound is coming from, it’s impossible to know whether that sound is simply quiet or just away.
- Your brain gets exhausted: When you lose hearing in one ear, your brain can get extra tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s failing to get the complete sound range from only one ear so it’s working overly hard to make up for it. And when hearing loss suddenly happens in one ear, that’s especially true. Normal daily activities, as a result, will become more taxing.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss in one ear?
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. This means that it’s time to consider other possible causes.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a chronic hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease progresses asymmetrically: one ear might be affected before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another common symptom of Meniere’s Disease.
- Other infections: One of your body’s most common reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just what your body does! Swelling in response to an infection isn’t always localized so hearing loss in one ear can result from any infection that would cause inflammation.
- Ruptured eardrum: Typical, a ruptured eardrum is hard to miss. It can be due to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (among other things). And it occurs when a hole is created between the thin membrane that separates your ear canal and middle ear. Usually, tinnitus and hearing loss along with a lot of pain are the outcomes.
- Acoustic Neuroma: While the name may sound rather intimidating, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear. While it isn’t 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 blocked by excessive earwax packed in your ear canal. It’s like using an earplug. If you’re experiencing earwax blocking your ear, never try to clean it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can push the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
- Abnormal Bone Growth: In extremely rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss could actually be some irregular bone growth getting in the way. This bone can, when it grows in a particular way, hinder your ability to hear.
- Ear infections: Ear infections can cause swelling. And this inflammation can close up your ear canal, making it difficult for you to hear.
So… What do I do about my single-sided hearing loss?
Depending on what’s generating your single-sided hearing loss, treatment options will vary. In the case of specific obstructions (like bone or tissue growths), surgery might be the ideal solution. Some problems, like a ruptured eardrum, will usually heal by themselves. Other problems such as too much earwax can be easily removed.
In some circumstances, however, your single-sided hearing loss may be permanent. And in these cases, we will help by prescribing one of two hearing aid options:
- Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass most of the ear by using your bones to transmit sound to the brain.
- CROS Hearing Aid: This kind of specially created hearing aid is specifically made to treat single-sided hearing impairment. With this hearing aid, sound is picked up at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s decoded by your brain. It’s very complex, very cool, and very effective.
It all begins with your hearing specialist
There’s probably a good reason why you can only hear out of one ear. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be neglecting. It’s important, both for your wellness and for the health of your hearing, to get to the bottom of those causes. So start hearing out of both ears again by scheduling an appointment with us.