Do you or someone you know have a hearing loss in one ear and were told nothing could be done about it? That was the common misconception many years ago. With this type of hearing loss, a person will experience difficulty understanding speech in a noisy room and locating the source of a sound. Many times significant emotional strain is created because others feel that you should hear just fine with one ear. They can’t understand why you hear some of the time and not all the time. The good news is that technology is now ready for you!
What Causes One-Sided Deafness?
One-sided deafness or unilateral hearing loss may have many causes. Some people are born with the hearing loss and others acquire a hearing loss by being exposed to an extremely loud sound or other type of hearing trauma. Head injury can cause hearing loss. An interruption in blood flow to the hearing organ (cochlea) or a virus may attack this part of the body, causing permanent hearing loss. A benign growth on the hearing nerve will also cause hearing loss in only one ear.
How Many Ears Do You Really Need to Hear People Talk?
This seems like an easy question, but the answer is really quite complicated. One ear hearing difference causes unique difficulty understanding speech. The individual will also experience more confusion and difficulty identifying with situations occurring around them more than someone with two equally hearing ears. The brain likes to hear from both sides to stimulate the understanding areas of the brain. When you do get a signal from both sides of the head, the brain does a much better job of separating the speech from the background noise. This being said, it is not that you need two ears to hear people talk, you need two ears to figure out what is being said. Hearing and understanding speech are very different tasks.
What Can Be Done About This Type of Permanent Hearing Loss?
The hearing organ cannot be surgically repaired. However, there is a technology ready for you to try! The new CROS (contralateral routing of signal) hearing aid is able to send a quality signal to your better ear. The concept of a CROS hearing aid is not new, but the ability of this newer digital technology to send a comfortable and more natural sound to your other ear is. The signal is sent to the better ear real time! There is no delay making it sound natural. People are amazed how they suddenly feel connected to the situations going on around them. Understanding speech is greatly enhanced. Many times this will reduce the feeling of being anxious when engaged in group activities. The emotional stress and frustration that a unilateral hearing loss causes may be significantly reduced. Suddenly you can feel that you are part of a conversation rather than needing to act like you are enjoying the conversation that you really are unable to hear adequately.
I Have a Hearing Loss in My Good Ear Too. What Can I Do?
There is technology advancement for you, too. A BiCROS hearing aid is for the person with a hearing loss in the better ear and has a dead or unusable ear on the other side. This hearing aid combination has also been extremely successful. The audiologist is able to adjust the overall gain from each side of the head. It is amazing to see the expression on someone’s face who has not heard “surround sound” since they can remember. This may open up an entire world for the person who has been avoiding social interactions because they felt that others saw them as mentally slow as they could not keep up with the conversation going on around them.
Sudden Change in Hearing or Balance.
If you have experienced a sudden change in hearing or balance, it is extremely important to see your primary care physician as quickly as possible. The treatments are time sensitive; the longer you wait the hearing and balance organ may not respond to therapy. They will send you to an audiologist for a hearing evaluation then to an ENT to rule out a growth on the hearing nerve or any of the other medical causes for unilateral hearing loss listed above. After your physicians have said that there is no further medical treatment, then try the CROS or BiCROS hearing aid. It may just change your life!
By Karon Lynn, Au.D.