When hearing in one ear is within the normal range while the hearing in the other ear is impaired, it’s called “unilateral hearing loss.” In cases of unilateral hearing loss, the importance of treatment is often overlooked.
Hearing Difficulties with Unilateral Hearing Loss
The hearing difficulties faced by a person with unilateral hearing loss can range significantly, especially depending on the degree of hearing loss present.
When one ear has untreated hearing loss, there will be deficits in:
- Sound localization (identifying where a sound is coming from).
- Hearing in background noise / noisy environments.
- Hearing sounds at their true intensity level (sounds are perceived as softer with unilateral hearing loss).
The person likely won’t have any difficulty understanding speech in a quiet environment, or hearing sounds directed towards the normal hearing ear. However, they may experience significant hardships when sounds are presented on the hearing loss side or in a loud environment where significant ambient noise is present.
Challenges Associated With Unilateral Hearing Loss
People with unilateral hearing loss often choose to “get by” with one good ear rather than seek treatment, but they can face significant challenges and consequences of not hearing properly, which only worsen as their hearing ability decreases:
- Untreated unilateral hearing loss can cause listening strain and fatigue.
- Misunderstanding speech or missing significant parts of conversations can be embarrassing or have other consequences, especially at work or in relationships.
- Participating in conversations in challenging listening environments can be frustrating and can result in social isolation in extreme cases.
Treatment For Unilateral Hearing Loss
For unilateral hearing loss, a single hearing aid should always be considered. A hearing aid can often reduce significant strain and fatigue, and allow a person to participate in complex listening environments more readily. It will also provide consistent stimulation to the inner ear and auditory nerve to maximize the integrity of the auditory system and help to reduce further deterioration.
Unilateral Hearing Loss Should Not Be Ignored!
If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss – in one ear or both – have your hearing checked by a doctor of audiology as soon as possible.
It is highly recommended to have annual hearing tests to monitor the level of the hearing loss and the integrity of the person’s auditory system. Amplification for the ear(s) with hearing loss should be strongly considered.