The Little-Known Complications 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.

Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as being binary — somebody has healthy hearing in both ears or reduced hearing on each side, but that ignores one particular kind of hearing loss entirely.

A 1998 study thought that around 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say this number has increased in that past two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it complications.

What’s Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Makes It?

As its name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a reduction in hearing only in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense cases, deep deafness is possible.

Reasons for premature hearing loss differ. It can be caused by trauma, for instance, someone standing next to a gun fire on the left might end up with profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disorder may lead to this problem, too, for example:

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

Whatever the origin, a person who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing sound.

Direction of the Sound

The brain uses the ears almost just like a compass. It identifies the direction of noise based on which ear registers it first and in the maximum volume.

Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise is only going to come in one ear no matter what way it originates. In case you have hearing from the left ear, then your head will turn to look for the noise even if the person talking is on the right.

Think for a second what that would be like. The audio would enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you know where a person speaking 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 sound. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the sound that you want to focus on, to listen to a voice. Your other ear handles the background noises. That is why at a noisy restaurant, you may still concentrate on the dialogue at the dining table.

Without that tool, the brain gets confused. It’s unable to filter out background sounds 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 use of two ears allows it to multitask. That is the reason you can sit and examine your social media account while watching TV or having a conversation. With just one functioning ear, the brain loses that ability to do one thing when listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, which means you tend to lose out on the conversation taking place without you while you navigate your newsfeed.

The Head Shadow Effect

The head shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are inaccessible to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so that they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the journey.

If you’re standing next to an individual having a high pitched voice, you may not know what they say if you don’t turn so the working ear is on their side. On the flip side, you might hear someone having a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they are on because they create longer sound waves which make it into either ear.

People with only minor hearing loss in only one ear have a tendency to accommodate. They learn quickly to turn their head a certain way to hear a buddy speak, for instance. For those who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work round that returns their lateral hearing to them.

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