Age-related hearing loss, which worries most adults at some point, tends to be lateral, to put it simply, it affects both ears to some extent. Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as a black and white — either somebody has healthy hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on each side, but that dismisses one kind of hearing loss entirely.
A 1998 study estimated around 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say that number has gone up in that last two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does happen and it brings with it it’s own problems.
What’s Single-Sided hearing loss and What Causes It?
As its name suggests, single-sided hearing loss suggests a decrease in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss may be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, profound 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 one side of their body.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss differ. It can be the result of injury, for example, a person standing next to a gun firing on the left might get moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disorder may lead to the problem, too, for example:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the origin, a person who has unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing sound.
Direction of the Sound
The brain utilizes the ears nearly just like a compass. It defines the direction of noise based on what ear registers it first and at the maximum volume. When somebody speaks to you while standing on the left, the brain sends a message to turn in that way.
With the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear no matter what direction it comes from. In case you have hearing from the left ear, then your mind will turn to look for the sound even if the person talking is on the right.
Think for a minute what that would be similar to. The sound would always enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you know where a person talking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound management is catchy.
Honing in on Sound
The brain also uses the ears to filter out background sound. It tells one ear, the one nearest to the sound that you want to focus on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear handles the background sounds. That is why in a noisy restaurant, so you may still concentrate on the conversation at the table.
When you can’t use that tool, the brain gets confused. It’s unable to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that’s all you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The mind has a lot happening at any one time but having two ears enables it to multitask. That’s the reason you’re able to sit and read your social media account while watching TV or talking with family. With only one functioning ear, the brain loses the ability to do something while listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, so you usually lose out on the conversation around you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Impact
The head shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so that they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not endure the trek.
If you’re standing beside an individual with a high pitched voice, then you may not know what they say if you don’t turn so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you may hear somebody with a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they’re on because they produce longer sound waves that make it into either ear.
Individuals with just minor hearing loss in only one ear tend to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a buddy speak, for instance. For people who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that returns their lateral hearing to them.