Unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness, is much more regular than people realize, notably in kids. Age-related hearing loss, which concerns many adults at some point, will become lateral, simply put, it affects both ears to a point. Because of this, the average person sees hearing loss as being binary — either somebody has healthy hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one kind of hearing loss entirely.
A 1998 research thought that around 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease in the moment. It is safe to say that amount has increased in that past two decades.
What is Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Causes It?
As the name suggests, single-sided hearing loss indicates a reduction in hearing only in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, deep deafness is possible.
Reasons for premature hearing loss vary. It can be caused by trauma, for example, someone standing beside a gun fire on the left may get profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disease may lead to the problem, as well, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
No matter the cause, an individual with unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing sound.
Management of the Audio
The brain utilizes the ears almost just like a compass. It defines the direction of noise based on which ear registers it initially and in the highest volume.
With the single-sided hearing loss, the sound will only come in one ear regardless of what direction it comes from. If you have hearing in the left ear, then your head will turn to look for the noise even when the person speaking is on the right.
Pause for a second and consider what that would be like. The sound would always enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where a person talking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound management is tricky.
Honing in on Sound
The brain also uses the ears to filter out background noise. It tells one ear, the one closest to the noise that you want to focus on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear handles the background sounds. That is why at a noisy restaurant, you may still concentrate on the dialogue at the table.
When you can’t use that tool, the brain becomes confused. It’s unable to filter out background sounds like a fan blowing, so that’s all you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The brain has a lot happening at any given time but having two ears allows it to multitask. That is why you’re able to sit and examine your social media sites whilst watching Netflix or having a conversation. With just one functioning ear, the brain loses that ability to do one thing while listening. It must prioritize between what you hear and what you see, which means you usually lose out on the dialogue taking place without you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Impact
The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap round the mind and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not endure the journey.
If you are standing next to a person having a high pitched voice, you might not understand what they say if you don’t flip so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you might hear someone with a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they produce longer sound waves which make it into either ear.
Individuals with just minor hearing loss in just one ear have a tendency to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to hear a buddy talk, for example. For people who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that returns their lateral hearing to them.