Hearing loss in only one ear is called unilateral hearing loss. While one ear may be more affected than the other, the cause of that hearing loss has actually impacted both ears. This is one of the many reasons it’s important to fit both ears with a hearing aid.
Two Good Ears Are Better than One
A common question asked by those who experience different levels of hearing loss in each ear is “Can’t I just treat my bad ear for hearing loss? Won’t that be enough?”
Our providers see patients who have a hearing impairment in only one ear (unilateral hearing loss), but because the factors that led to that impairment have affected both ears, it’s best to treat both ears. Generally, fitting only one hearing aid doesn’t always give patients the best hearing experience possible.
An important part of our ability to listen and focus on sound is being able to find the location of the sound. In the presence of background noise, knowing where a sound is coming from also helps make speech easier to understand, therefore reducing the fatigue and confusion caused by difficult listening environments.
Two Ears Offer More Brainpower
Sounds heard by your left ear are first directed to the right temporal lobe, and sounds heard by your right ear are directed to your left. The two parts of your brain work together to process the signals into words and sounds you recognize. This means you’re able to decipher speech more easily and pay attention to what you really want to hear (selective listening).
Two Ears Hear Better in Noise
Hearing in background noise is difficult for anyone, but especially if you have a hearing loss. Typically, if you’re wearing two hearing aids, you’ll need less amplification than you would with one. A lower volume is more desirable because it’s less likely that you’ll have distortion or feedback.
Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss
Sometimes a patient can completely lose hearing in just one ear; this is called profound unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness. If this is the case, there are medical therapies that can help to re-create some of the effects of binaural hearing. Some of the most common are bone-conduction systems (bone-anchored hearing aids, or BAHA devices), which basically help to communicate vibrations from the deaf ear to the functioning ear. Alternately, contralateral routing of sound (CROS) hearing aids use a microphone in the non-hearing ear to relay sound to the good ear.