Individuals often experience different levels of hearing loss in each ear.
And patients in this situation frequently ask us, “Can’t I just treat my really bad ear for hearing loss? Won’t that be improvement enough?”
While we at Central Florida Audiology sometimes see patients with hearing loss in only one ear (also known as unilateral hearing loss), typically the factors that led to the impairment have affected both ears — just to a different degree. In this relatively common situation, we find that fitting just one hearing aid usually fails to provide a satisfying sound experience for the wearer.
Hearing well with both ears not only takes advantage of our ears’ critical ability to identify the location of sound (a surprisingly important component of our ability to listen and to focus on sound effectively), it also helps make speech easier to understand in the presence of noise and helps reduce the fatigue and confusion brought on by difficult listening environments.
Two Ears Means More Brainpower
Sounds collected by your left ear are initially processed by the right side of the brain, while sounds collected by your right ear are initially processed by the left side of the brain. After they are received, the two halves of your brain work together to organize the signals into recognizable words and sounds. Using both sides of the brain significantly improves the ability to decipher speech and what’s known as “selective listening” ability — the ability to pay attention to the sound or voice you really want to hear.
Two Ears Hear Better in Noise
Similarly, using more of your brain to focus on the sound you want to hear is tremendously important in overcoming one of the primary complaints of individuals with hearing loss: hearing among background noise. Also, a person wearing two hearing aids generally needs less amplification than someone wearing only one. Lower volume means less potential for sound distortion and feedback, which leads to higher-quality reproduction of sound.
Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss
In less common cases in which there is a total hearing loss in one ear (also known as profound unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness), there are medical therapies that may help to re-create some of the effects of binaural hearing. These include bone-conduction systems (also known as bone-anchored hearing aids, or BAHA devices) that can help transmit vibrations from the nonhearing ear to the functioning ear. Also, CROS (contralateral routing of sound) hearing aids are available that use a microphone in the nonhearing ear to transmit the sound to the hearing hear.
Contact us to discuss your hearing situation and what kind of hearing care solution is right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are some types of hearing loss easier to treat?
Hearing loss is a puzzle that our professionals love to solve, and it is based on your individual experiences, lifestyle, and severity of impairment. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment method for hearing loss — it’s based on the sounds that you can’t hear, which vary greatly, and the sounds that you want to be able to hear. A quality hearing system from a reputable manufacturer isn’t effective until an experienced, qualified hearing care professional programs the technology properly based on your unique hearing needs.
Are there any health downsides to not treating hearing loss?
Research has established a relationship between hearing loss and dementia. There is strong evidence that hearing loss accelerates brain-tissue atrophy, particularly in areas of the brain that auditory nerves would stimulate but can’t because they aren’t receiving a signal (due to a hearing loss). These areas of the brain are also related to memory and speech. Individuals with a mild hearing loss are three times as likely to fall down as those without, and the likelihood of falls increases as degree of hearing loss increases. Hearing loss has also been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sickle-cell anemia, and other circulatory conditions.
At what age do people normally start getting hearing loss?
Since hearing loss is cumulative, hearing loss begins as an infant and continues throughout life. Most individuals don’t begin to experience symptoms until their late 20s or early 30s, and by age 45 a yearly hearing check becomes of greater importance. One-third of people beyond the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss, however mild or severe, and that share of the elderly population increases as they age.
How can I improve my hearing?
Unfortunately, many forms of hearing loss are permanent because there is no cure. Treatment methods that feature amplification fit to your specific hearing loss by a hearing care professional typically have the highest user satisfaction for improved hearing and improved quality of life.
How can I prevent hearing loss?
Protecting your hearing from noise levels greater than 85 decibels at work and during leisurely activities will greatly reduce your chances of noise-induced hearing loss. Many manufacturing jobs require hearing protection in loud environments, but hearing protection is also recommended while ATV riding, hunting, attending concerts and sporting events, and playing music — all situations where your hearing is vulnerable.
Is hearing loss hereditary?
Though it is difficult to say what genetic factors predispose individuals to hearing loss, there seems to be a connection. Some genetic disorders present at birth cause a hearing loss, but in the absence of a disease, hearing loss can still have a basis in your genetics.
What should I do if I get sudden hearing loss?
See your physician immediately; sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency. Sudden hearing loss typically resolves on its own within two weeks, but it might not — meaning your hearing might be gone for good. Seeking medical assistance within 72 hours of the onset of sudden hearing loss greatly improves the chances that your hearing will recover.