Hearing Loss in One Ear

Those with unilateral hearing loss, or unilateral deafness, have difficulty hearing in one ear or total deafness that is only in one ear. With hearing loss in one ear, the individual should be able to hear clearly with the other ear. However, if this condition is a new experience, it is best to get in contact with a medical professional immediately as it can indicate a medical emergency and should be addressed immediately.

Why Would It Happen?

There're various causes of the condition. For example, one potential cause is a sudden loud noise near that side of your head. That can result in a temporary trauma to your ear. It can also be more permanent, which is why it is necessary to consult a doctor.

Common causes of hearing loss in one ear include:

  • A tumor
  • Natural course of aging
  • Buildup of ear wax
  • Injuries to the ear

Also, using certain drugs can affect hearing in one ear only. These include:

  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Streptomycin
  • Kanamycin

Certain illnesses can also contribute to the issue with hearing loss in one ear. Conditions include:

  • Beriberi due to vitamin B1 deficiency
  • Brittle bone disease
  • Rupture of ear drum
  • Labyrinthitis characterized by swelling and irritation in the ear
  • Meniere's disease, a condition of the inner ear that can result in deafness
  • Middle ear infection
  • Neurofibromatosis type 2
  • Swimmer's ear
  • Otitis media with effusion
  • Temporal arteritis
  • Vertebrobasilar insufficiency

What Problems Will It Cause?

For those who lose hearing on one side, it may become difficult to hear well when the conversation is with another individual at a quiet level. It also can be a challenge to understand conversation in loud environments where groups are meeting, like churches, restaurants, indoor swimming pools or the gym.

This happens because the ears are designed to gather information on an individual basis and send signals to the areas of the brain called auditory reception centers. When one ear is not collecting information, there are certain issues with the acoustic picture, leaving gaps that would otherwise be filled. This affects not only your understanding of the conversation, but it also impedes your ability to organize and make sense of speech.

Head Shadow Effect

For those with hearing loss in one ear, the higher pitched sounds that occur near that ear are partially blocked by the head from reaching the other ear. This leads to issues with comprehending the voiceless consonants like the c, t, f, p and s, as well as the ch and sh sounds.

Localization Ability

When a person is unable to hear with both ears, it becomes difficult to narrow down where a sound is coming from. This is because the time of the sound's arrival to the ear nearest the sound and the intensity of the sound, again for the ear that is closest, help the brain determine where the sound came from. Both of these pieces of information are affected when only one ear is gathering the information. In situations where someone has called your name, it may take a greater amount of time and effort to determine where that person is located when you have hearing loss in one ear.

How Can It Be Treated?

1. Wax Removal

If significant amounts of wax are built up in the inner ear, the doctor may use oil to soften the wax and then use instruments to scoop or flush the wax out of the ear. Suction may also be needed to complete this endeavor.

2. Medications

When it comes to treatment, there are a couple of options involving medication that can address the issue when appropriate.

  • Steroids can be taken orally or injected into the ear canal to reduce inflammation. Some patients require both methods of administration, in order to allow the most medication to reach the inner ear and hopefully resolve the hearing loss issue.
  • Antiviral medications may also be prescribed. These can help if there is a virus that is suspected to be causing the hearing loss. If there is elevated pressure in the inner ear, diuretics may be administered. These can help lower the pressure in the ear if the patient also avoids nicotine and caffeine and changes to a low-salt diet.

3. Surgery

Surgical procedures may be necessary if there has been trauma to the ear that resulted in the hearing loss. The insertion of tubes to allow fluid to drain may be necessary to allow you hear out of that ear once again.

4. Hearing Aids

Hearing aids may be necessary if the hearing loss can not be reversed without assistance. Damage to the inner ear can mean the need for a hearing aid, which will make sounds louder and easier to hear.

5. Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are used when there are parts of the inner ear that do not work at all or are too severely damaged. The implant compensates for those parts instead of simply amplifying sound as a hearing aid is intended to do.

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