Understanding Unilateral Hearing Loss: Causes and Impacts
by Hear Clear on Nov 19, 2023
Unilateral hearing loss, aka the loss of hearing in one ear, is a common auditory condition, and can be an irritating symptom to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Also known as single-sided deafness, this type of hearing impairment can significantly impact everything from communication and confidence to speaking and making conversation, so if this is a new symptom that you’ve developed recently, it’s a good idea to find out the underlying cause and (eventual) treatment.
So, what causes unilateral hearing loss? Let’s take a look.
What is Unilateral Hearing Loss?
Unilateral hearing loss refers to the reduction or loss of hearing in one ear, and can range from mild muffled hearing to profound hearing loss, and can - despite common misconceptions - affect people of all ages. Unlike bilateral hearing loss, which affects both ears, unilateral hearing loss can pose unique challenges, such as difficulty locating the source of sounds and understanding speech in noisy environments.
What Causes Unilateral Hearing Loss?
Middle ear infections, such as otitis media, can lead to temporary or, in severe cases, permanent unilateral hearing loss. This occurs when the infection causes fluid buildup or damage to the ear structures, leading to a reduction in hearing.
This inner ear disorder is characterised by episodes of vertigo, tinnitus, and fluctuating hearing loss that often only affects one ear. Meniere's disease can lead to progressive, unilateral hearing impairment, and the causes of Meniere’s Disease are still unclear to this day.
While the word “neuroma” might make you panic, an acoustic neuroma is a benign, non-cancerous tumour that grows on the cranial nerve responsible for hearing and balance. While it's usually slow-growing, an acoustic neuroma can cause hearing loss in one ear, along with other symptoms like tinnitus and balance issues.
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss is a medical condition characterised by a rapid loss of hearing in one ear, typically occurring without warning. The exact cause is often unknown, but it's considered a medical emergency and requires prompt treatment to avoid total hearing loss in the affected ear.
Trauma or Injury
Head injuries, exposure to loud noises, or sudden changes in air pressure can damage the ear's structures or the auditory nerve, leading to unilateral hearing loss. If you’ve recently played a rough or combat sport (such as rugby or MMA) and you’re experiencing hearing loss in just one ear, physical trauma is likely to be the culprit.
The Impact of Unilateral Hearing Loss
Unilateral hearing loss can significantly affect a person's ability to localise sound, understand speech in noisy environments, and maintain balance. It can lead to difficulties in social interactions, education, and employment. Furthermore, it may contribute to a sense of isolation, frustration, and fatigue, as more effort is required to listen and communicate - so it’s perfectly understandable that those dealing with it look for rapid and effective solutions.
How to Restore Hearing in One Ear
As with all ailments, when it comes to restoring hearing in the affected ear, everything depends on the underlying cause. Some treatment options include:
- Medication: For hearing loss caused by infections or certain diseases, medication can be effective. Antibiotics can be prescribed for ear infections, while corticosteroids can be used to treat sudden hearing loss.
- Surgery: In cases of acoustic neuroma or other structural issues, surgical intervention might be necessary to relieve pressure on the cranial nerve.
- Hearing Aids: Various hearing aids and assistive devices are designed specifically for unilateral hearing loss, helping to improve hearing and quality of life. At Hear Clear, we offer small invisible hearing aids for those looking for discreet options - and our range is totally affordable, too!
- Cochlear Implants: For severe or profound unilateral hearing loss, cochlear implants can be a viable option, especially in cases where traditional hearing aids are not effective.
Can You Go Deaf in One Ear?
Yes, it is possible to go deaf in one ear, a condition referred to as unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness. This can result from various causes, including infections, acoustic neuroma, sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or trauma. If this comes on suddenly, it’s vital to seek medical attention immediately.
What Causes Hearing Loss in One Ear?
Common causes of unilateral hearing loss include ear infections, Meniere's disease, acoustic neuroma, sudden sensorineural hearing loss, and physical trauma or injury. Sometimes, the exact cause may be unknown, but it's always important to seek medical evaluation for proper diagnosis.
Hearing Loss in One Ear No Pain - Is It Serious?
Even without pain, hearing loss in one ear can be serious and warrants medical attention. Some conditions, like sudden sensorineural hearing loss or acoustic neuroma, may not cause pain but can lead to significant hearing impairment.
The Bottom Line
Unilateral hearing loss, while often overshadowed by bilateral hearing impairments, poses its own set of challenges, and impacts daily life significantly for those who suffer from it. Whether it manifests as a sudden or gradual loss of hearing in one ear, it's essential to seek prompt medical evaluation to determine the cause and explore treatment options.
Generally, addressing unilateral hearing loss involves a multidisciplinary approach, including medical treatment, hearing aids, or possibly surgery. But the good news is, the advancements in hearing technology, such as CROS (Contralateral Routing of Signal) as well as bone-anchored hearing systems, means that there’s growing hope even for those for whom unilateral hearing loss is severe.