Single-sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is more common than people realize, prominently in kids. Age-related hearing loss, which affects most adults at some point, will become lateral, to put it another way, it affects both ears to some extent. Because of this, the average person sees hearing loss as being black and white — someone has typical hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on each side, but that ignores one particular form of hearing loss completely.
A 1998 study thought that around 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It is safe to say that number has increased in that last two decades. The fact is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it it’s own problems.
What’s Single-Sided hearing loss and What Causes It?
As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss indicates a decrease in hearing only in one ear. The hearing loss may be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, profound deafness is potential.
Reasons for premature hearing loss differ. It may be caused by trauma, for example, a person standing next to a gun fire on the left might end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disorder may lead to the issue, too, for example:
- 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 brain utilizes the ears nearly just like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on which ear registers it initially and in the maximum volume.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the sound is only going to come in one ear no matter what direction it originates. If you have hearing from the left ear, then your head will turn left to look for the sound even when the person speaking is on the right.
Think for a minute what that would be like. The sound would enter 1 side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you know where an individual talking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not profound, sound direction is catchy.
Focusing on Sound
The brain also employs the ears to filter out background noise. It tells one ear, the one nearest to the noise that you wish to concentrate on, to listen to a voice. Your other ear manages the background noises. This is precisely why at a noisy restaurant, you can still focus on the dialogue at the table.
When you can’t use that tool, the brain becomes confused. It’s unable to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that’s everything you hear.
The mind has a lot happening at any one time but having two ears allows it to multitask. That is why you’re able to sit and examine your social media sites while watching TV or talking with family. With only one functioning ear, the mind loses the ability to do something when listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, so you usually miss out on the conversation taking place without 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 they bend enough to wrap around the head and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the journey.
If you’re standing next to a person having a high pitched voice, then you may not know what they say unless you turn so the good ear is facing them. On the other hand, you may hear someone with a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they’re on because they produce longer sound waves which make it to either ear.
People 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 hear a buddy talk, for instance. For people who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing to them.