Single sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is much more widespread than people realize, particularly in children. Age-related hearing loss, which impacts most adults at some point, will become lateral, simply put, it affects both ears to some extent. Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as being black and white — either someone has normal hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that ignores one form of hearing loss completely.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say this number has gone up in that last two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it it’s own problems.
What’s Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Makes It?
As its name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a decrease in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, deep deafness is possible. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing whatsoever and that person is left with monaural sound quality — their hearing is limited to a side of the body.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss vary. It can be the result of trauma, for example, someone standing beside a gun fire on the left may end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disorder may lead to this problem, too, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the origin, a person with unilateral hearing must adapt to a different method of processing audio.
Management of the Audio
The mind utilizes the ears almost just like a compass. It identifies the direction of sound based on which ear registers it first and at the maximum volume.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear no matter what way it comes from. In case you have hearing in the left ear, then your mind will turn to look for the noise even if the person talking is on the right.
Think for a minute what that would be similar to. The sound would enter 1 side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where a person speaking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t profound, sound management is catchy.
Honing in on Sound
The brain also employs the ears to filter out background noise. It informs 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 noises. This is why in a noisy restaurant, you can still concentrate on the dialogue at the table.
When you don’t have that tool, the brain gets confused. It is not able to filter out background noises like a fan running, so that’s everything you hear.
The brain has a lot going on at any given time but having two ears allows it to multitask. That is why you can sit and read your social media sites whilst watching Netflix or talking with family. With only one functioning ear, the mind loses that ability to do something while listening. It must prioritize between what you see and what you hear, so you usually lose out on the conversation around you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so that they bend enough to wrap round the head and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the journey.
If you are standing beside an individual having a high pitched voice, you might not understand what they say unless you turn so the good ear is on their side. On the flip side, you might hear somebody having a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they create longer sound waves that make it to either ear.
Individuals with just minor hearing loss in just one ear have a tendency to accommodate. They learn fast to turn their head a certain way to listen to a buddy speak, for instance. For people who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing.