Hearing loss occurs in many different forms – and for many different reasons. Although most often thought of as a condition that affects both ears, hearing loss frequently occurs unilaterally with one ear experiencing more hearing impairment than the other. This is called single-sided hearing loss and it is a serious health concern. Fortunately, there are hearing solutions designed specifically for single-sided hearing loss.
Single-Sided Hearing Loss
There is no singular cause for single-sided hearing loss. Sometimes hearing loss in a single ear is present at birth, which is referred to as congenital hearing loss. There are many ways single-sided hearing loss can develop throughout life as well. Viral infections located in or near the ear can cause unilateral hearing damage, as can injuries to the head and neck. A side effect of surgery or medication can be hearing loss in a single ear. Certain medical conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, can also cause single-sided hearing loss.
One of the most frequent causes of bilateral hearing loss is noise exposure and this can also be a factor in single-sided hearing damage. Hearing damage from noise exposure is also known as sensorineural hearing loss and can occur unilaterally when a person is frequently exposed to loud sound on a specific side of the body. Sometimes factory or machinist labor will cause single-sided hearing loss from the consistent positioning of a worker relative to loud machinery. Hunters and soldiers may also experience single-sided hearing loss from gunshots and artillery fired.
When single-sided hearing loss is profound, meaning that the ability to hear from one ear is severely impaired, it is also known as single-sided deafness, or SSD for short.
Why Treat Single Sided Hearing Loss?
Unfortunately, treating single-sided hearing loss isn’t as easy as “getting by” with one “good” ear. Our ears function as a set to perform functions that they cannot do alone. Determining where a sound is coming from is done binaurally, where our ears calibrate the subtle time difference it takes a sound wave to reach each ear and then uses that information to triangulate the direction of the noise. We need sound input from both ears to properly locate and source sounds in our environment.
SSD and other degrees of single-sided hearing loss are serious health issues. Relying on a single ear to hear taxes our auditory system and our cognitive functioning. Because a single ear cannot perform the function of two ears operating in conjunction, it stresses our auditory and cognitive functioning trying to compensate.
Treatment for SSD and single-sided hearing loss is different than hearing solutions for binaural hearing loss. Instead of a matched set of hearing aids, single-sided hearing solutions often use another strategy, commonly known as CROS which stands for Contralateral Routing of Signal.
“Contralateral Routing of Signal” may sound complicated, but the concept behind CROS is relatively simple. CROS relies on a microphone in the ear affected by hearing loss that picks up soundwaves as they reach the ear and then wirelessly transmits the audio to the “good” ear in a way that replicates the time lag needed for dimensional hearing.
For people using CROS technology, the “good” ear can effectively hear for both ears, experiencing sound as it would be experienced binaurally. The technology takes advantage of the person’s existing ability to hear and improves their capacity to locate sound. CROS systems can also amplify sound for the hearing ear if it also experiences some degree of hearing loss.
In addition to CROS technology, some other solutions are available for single-sided hearing loss. Both cochlear implants and bone-anchored hearing aids are solutions that involve surgical implants that assist with hearing when profound hearing loss is present.
Bone-anchored hearing aids involve hearing by conduction through the small bones of the middle ear to the auditory nerve in the inner ear. An implant is fitted to the bone in surgery and then connected to an external, removable hearing aid.
Cochlear implants work by sending sound from a behind-the-ear processor to an implant in the temporal bone and an electrode array in the cochlea to mimic the natural detection of sound in the ear.
Custom Hearing Solutions
When you notice a change in your hearing, it’s important to get to the bottom of the matter. At Custom Hearing Solutions we know hearing care inside and out and can help you connect with solutions for healthy hearing. Whether you’ve noticed a hearing issue in both ears, or just on one side, we can help you overcome hearing loss and hear the richness of the world contact us today to set up an appointment.