When hearing is lost in one ear, the symptoms can be life-changing. Unilateral hearing loss, or single sided deafness (SSD), is a prevalent and troubling condition affecting an estimated 60,000 new people each year in the United States alone. Here are some basic facts about single sided deafness, and the best treatments for this unique type of hearing loss.
Unilateral hearing loss (UHL) is defined as when hearing is normal in one ear but there is hearing loss in the other ear. The level of loss can range from mild to very severe, and it can occur in both adults and children. Approximately 1 out of every 1,000 children is born with UHL, and almost 3 percent of school-age children have this type of hearing loss.
Single-sided hearing loss can result from viral infections, Meniere’s disease, injuries to the ear or head, traumatic brain injuries, or surgical intervention to remove brain tumors. This type of hearing loss can also be caused by genetic or hereditary factors, or an outer, middle, or inner ear abnormality.
Symptoms vary, depending on the severity of the hearing loss. Having reduced hearing on one side makes it difficult for some people to locate the direction of sounds. This can make navigating city traffic more dangerous for those with unilateral hearing loss, especially if it is untreated. Difficulty with localization can also make it more challenging to listen in groups of people, and to be able to discern who is speaking at a given moment. Others may find it harder or impossible to hear sounds when they come from a certain direction. One of the most common symptoms, and perhaps the most frustrating in terms of conversation, is the lack of ability to understand speech in noisy situations. People with UHL also hear sounds quieter, meaning that they might have trouble hearing speech coming from another room.
For people who have not lived with unilateral hearing loss/single sided deafness, it is hard to understand the challenges faced, and the lifestyle changes that sometimes occur for those with this condition. Though many patients learn to live comfortably with a unilateral hearing loss, others struggle to cope in their normal environments such as office meetings, crowded restaurants or family get-togethers.
A lack of awareness about unilateral hearing loss means that many patients with UHL remain untreated, though life-improving treatments such as hearing aids are available.
Just as those with hearing loss in both ears can benefit greatly from hearing aids, people with unilateral hearing loss can find help and relief in assistive hearing technology.
Some people with UHL may have good or perfect hearing in one hear, and others may have less-than-perfect hearing in their “good ear.” In either case, there are hearing aid options that can make day-to-day life easier and less stressful.
If you have profound deafness in one ear but some hearing in the other, there are three solutions to look into:
CROS hearing aid
CROS makes it possible for your good ear to hear for both of your ears. CROS stands for ‘Contralateral Routing of Signal’ and is composed of two parts:
The CROS has microphones which detect sounds and voices, which are then wirelessly transmitted to a hearing aid being used by the ‘good’ ear.
The hearing aid, after receiving the signal from the CROS, sends those sounds into your ‘good’ ear.
If your ‘good ear’ could also benefit from amplification, the hearing aid can function both as a hearing aid for that ear, and as a receiver for the CROS.
Bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA)
Bone conduction is the way we hear our own voices, and this hearing aids works in a similar way. A bone-anchored hearing aid works with an implant which transmits sound through bone to the inner ear, by conduction. This type of hearing aid requires surgery to fit the implant, but the external hearing aid can be removed anytime, for showering and sleeping.
A cochlear implant is a combination of parts which work together to make hearing easier. There is a behind-the-ear sound processor (which has a similar appearance to a large behind-the-ear hearing aid) and an antenna, which is attached by a lead to the processor and also attached magnetically to the implant (which is under the skin). The processor and antenna work together to send the sound to the implant, which is a tiny electronic receiver, surgically implanted in the temporal bone underneath the skin. The implant is able to amplify sounds by converting the sound waves it receives into electrical impulses, which then stimulate the hearing nerve and enable the brain to receive the sound.
It is important to remember that unilateral hearing loss should be treated, just as with binaural hearing loss. Here at Hearing Consultants, we offer hearing solutions for people with single-sided hearing loss. Contact our team to learn more.