What Is Unilateral Hearing Loss?

Uncovering Its Causes and Treatment Options
Last update on Jan, 31, 2024

Exploring the Origins and Solutions of Unilateral Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be challenging and isolating for anyone, but when it only affects one ear, it can be especially frustrating. Unilateral hearing loss (UHL) is a condition that allows you to hear better in one ear but struggle to hear or localize sounds or speech in the other.

It's different from experiencing a ringing or buzzing sound in one ear like you would with tinnitus. However, tinnitus can be a symptom of UHL.

With UHL, the degree of hearing loss can vary from mild to profound, but any type of hearing loss—no matter the degree can significantly impact your quality of life. This is why even if you experience hearing loss only in one ear, it should never be ignored.

Experiencing Hearing Loss in One Ear

Did you know that around 60,000 people in the United States experience hearing loss in one ear? You can develop UHL at any stage of life (either suddenly or gradually), but approximately 1 out of every 1,000 children are born with this condition.

Imagine relying on one ear to carry a conversation or hear directions vs. having both ears to do the work for you. Our ears and brains are built as a bilateral system, we need both ears to send sound to both sides of the brain to localize sounds and to hear and understand speech in noisy environments.   There could be several reasons to explain why you cannot hear out of one ear.

Causes of Unilateral Hearing Loss

The causes of this condition can be diverse and may include:

  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Head or brain injuries
  • Ear infections
  • Genetic hearing loss
  • Abnormalities in the inner, middle, or outer ear

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Single-Sided Deafness vs. Unilateral Hearing Loss

You may hear the terms single-sided deafness (SSD) and unilateral hearing loss used interchangeably. SSD is a form of UHL; however, it is a more severe case where a person experiences profound hearing loss in the affected ear, meaning they do not hear any speech or only very loud sounds.

SSD can be a challenging condition to manage, but options are available to help those affected by it.

Detecting Unilateral Hearing Loss

Even if you only have hearing loss in one ear, you may feel like you're missing out on important conversations or you’re exhausted from straining to listen throughout the day. You might also experience other symptoms of hearing loss, such as tinnitus, vertigo, and dizziness.

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If you or someone you love is living with UHL, remember you're not alone. There are effective treatment options available that can help improve your hearing so you can enjoy your favorite sounds again. 

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Treating Unilateral Hearing Loss

CROS Hearing Aids

CROS hearing aids are specifically designed for people who have UHL. Although we call them "hearing aids," they don't amplify sound like most other types of hearing aids. Instead, they consist of two devices that work together to transmit sound from one ear to the other.

These devices include a standard hearing aid that you wear in the ear with better hearing, and a wireless transmitter and microphone that you wear in the ear with hearing loss. The transmitter and microphone pick up sound from the ear with hearing loss and send it via Bluetooth® to the hearing aid worn by the better-hearing ear.

CROS hearing aids can benefit individuals with any degree of unilateral hearing loss. 

BiCROS Hearing Aids

When hearing loss is present in the better-hearing ear, your hearing care provider may recommend a BiCROS system.

As with CROS hearing aids, BiCROS consists of two devices, where the sound from the ear with restricted hearing is routed to a hearing aid in the better-hearing ear. However, with BiCROS, the hearing aid in the better ear is programmed to perform two essential tasks:

  • Adjust for the hearing loss in that ear
  • Receive the signal transmitted from the CROS transmitter worn on the ear with hearing loss.

Learn more about the benefits of CROS and BiCROS hearing aids.

Bone-anchored hearing aids

Bone-anchored hearing aids are devices that are surgically implanted behind the ear. They transmit sound vibrations through the skull bone to the inner ear.

These devices are a good option for people with UHL who are unable to wear traditional hearing aids due to issues with their ear canal.

Cochlear implants

Cochlear implants are electronic devices surgically implanted into the inner ear to bypass the damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve.

The cochlear implant consists of two main parts that work together:

  • The external processor captures sound and converts it into digital signals.
  • At the same time, the internal implant receives these signals and sends them to an array of electrodes that stimulate the auditory nerve.

This creates the sensation of sound, allowing you to hear again.

Unilateral Hearing Loss: Temporary or Permanent?

The duration of UHL can vary. For example, UHL caused by loud noise or ear infections may be temporary with proper intervention. In contrast, UHL caused by a tumor or present since birth may be permanent, but remember there are options available to allow you to still enjoy a better quality of life.

It's important to never ignore hearing loss as it could indicate an underlying issue. Early detection and treatment of UHL could prevent social isolation, depression, and cognitive decline associated with untreated hearing loss.

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Ready to Check Your Hearing Care Benefit

Hearing loss, even in one ear, can be gradual. Having your hearing examined by a hearing care provider is an essential step. To get started, you can easily check to see if you have hearing care coverage with Amplifon Hearing Health Care. You can also take a free virtual screening from the comfort of your home.

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