The Added Difficulties of Single Sided Deafness

Man suffering from single-sided hearing loss is only experiencing one half of the world because he can't hear the other.

Single-sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is more common than people realize, especially in kids. Age-related hearing loss, which impacts most adults sooner or later, tends to be lateral, simply put, it affects both ears to some extent. Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as being binary — either somebody has typical hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that ignores one particular kind of hearing loss altogether.

A 1998 study thought that around 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that amount has gone up in that past two decades. The fact is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it it’s own problems.

What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?

As its name suggests, single-sided hearing loss suggests a reduction in hearing only in one ear.In intense cases, profound deafness is potential. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing whatsoever and that individual is left with monaural audio quality — their hearing is limited to a side of the human body.

Causes of unilateral hearing loss vary. It may be caused by injury, for instance, a person standing next to a gun firing on the left may end up with profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disorder may lead to the issue, as well, for example:

  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Measles
  • Microtia
  • Meningitis
  • Waardenburg syndrome
  • Mumps
  • Mastoiditis

Whatever the cause, an individual who has unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing sound.

Direction of the Audio

The brain utilizes the ears nearly like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on which ear registers it first and at the highest volume.

With the single-sided hearing loss, the sound is only going to come in one ear no matter what way it originates. In case you have hearing loss in the left ear, your head will turn to search for the noise even when the person talking is on the right.

Think for a minute what that would be similar to. The sound would enter one side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where an individual talking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t deep, sound management is tricky.

Honing in on Sound

The brain also uses the ears to filter out background noise. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the noise you want to focus on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear handles the background sounds. This is precisely why in a noisy restaurant, you may still focus on the conversation at the table.

When you can’t use that tool, the mind becomes confused. It’s not able 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 use of two ears allows it to multitask. That’s the reason you can sit and examine your social media sites while watching TV or talking with family. With just one functioning ear, the mind loses that ability to do something while listening. It has to prioritize between what you see and what you hear, which means you tend to miss out on the dialogue taking place without you while you browse your newsfeed.

The Head Shadow Impact

The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are unavailable to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the head and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the trek.

If you’re standing next to a person with a high pitched voice, then you might not know what they say unless you flip so the good ear is facing them. On the other hand, you might hear someone with a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they create longer sound waves which make it to either ear.

People with just a slight hearing loss in only one ear tend to accommodate. They learn quickly to turn their head a certain way to hear a buddy speak, for example. For those who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work around that yields their lateral hearing.

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