Unilateral hearing loss is a hearing loss that happens in only one ear. Most cases of hearing loss that occur due to normal aging or noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) are bilateral – or in both ears. Unilateral hearing loss is most often caused by abrupt head injuries, viral infections, Meniere’s disease, or after surgery to remove a brain tumor. Single sided deafness or SSD is another term for unilateral hearing loss. SSD and unilateral hearing loss bring along their own concerns and can sometimes be even more troublesome than bilateral hearing loss. Read on to learn more about unilateral hearing loss, and how it is diagnosed and treated.
Unilateral hearing loss symptoms are varied. Obviously the most apparent symptom of unilateral hearing loss includes having unequal hearing abilities in each of your ears. How the hearing loss effects one, however, is a bit different than for those with bilateral hearing loss. Difficulty determining where a sound is coming from is a very common issue. This can make everyday activities such as crossing the street and navigating traffic not only difficult, but also downright dangerous. Some people with unilateral hearing loss notice it most when they are communicating with a large group of people such as at a family gathering or business meeting, or when they are in a noisy environment such as a restaurant or an airport.
Your audiologist or hearing aid specialist will diagnose unilateral hearing loss in a similar way they diagnose bilateral hearing loss. First, you will be asked to fill in a questionnaire that will ask you about your personal and family lifestyle and medical history. Then, your audiologist will look into your ears with an otoscope to see if there is any external damage to your ear canal or eardrum. Next, you will undergo some very quick and very painless assessments. You will listen to a variety of tones and will be asked to indicate when you hear them. The exact types of assessments will vary depending on your audiologist and hearing profile. Once the assessments are finished, you and your audiologist or hearing aid specialist will sit down and discuss the results and potential treatment options.
There are a few treatment options and solutions for people with unilateral hearing loss. The first, are contralateral routing of signal (CROS) hearing aids. This type of hearing aid is worn in the client’s “good” ear. On the deaf or hearing-impaired ear, there is a small microphone that picks up sounds and voices from the deaf side and transmits them to the hearing aid in the hearing ear. The second and newer treatment option is called a bone anchored hearing aid, or BAHA. A BAHA systems involves a small titanium implant placed in the bone behind the hearing impaired ear. This implant is then connected to a sound processor. The sound processor then picks up and transfers sounds through the bone to the hearing ear. With a bone anchored hearing aid, the wearer is able to hear sounds from both sides.
There are also some coping strategies for living with unilateral hearing loss. Joining a lip reading class can be a great way to not only improve conversational understanding, but good way to meet other people also dealing with hearing loss. It is also important to make sure your communication partner sits on your “good” side. Learning what positioning works best for you can be a great skill to have in your pocket. Play around with different positioning techniques until you find the one that is most successful for your hearing profile.
Do you feel like you are hearing conversations but not understanding them? Are you becoming frustrated in social situations? Does your spouse or family constantly ask you to turn down the volume? If so, you may be experiencing some of the early signs of hearing loss – be it unilateral or bilateral. If you have noticed changes in your hearing, reach out to our friendly team today to schedule your first consultation. We look forward to hearing from you and joining you on your journey to better hearing and an improved quality of life.