Single-sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is much more common than people realize, especially in children. As a result, the average person sees hearing loss as a binary — either someone has healthy hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one form of hearing loss altogether.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say that amount has gone up in that past two decades. The fact is single-sided hearing loss does happen and it brings with it complications.
What is Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Makes It?
As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss indicates a reduction in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In extreme instances, profound deafness is potential.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss differ. It can be caused by injury, for example, someone standing next to a gun fire on the left may end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease can lead to this issue, as well, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the origin, a person with unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing audio.
Direction of the Audio
The brain utilizes the ears almost just like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on what ear registers it first and in the maximum volume. When a person talks to you while standing on the left, the brain sends a message to flip in that way.
With the single-sided hearing loss, the sound is only going to come in one ear regardless of what direction it originates. If you have hearing loss in the left ear, your head will turn to search for the noise even when the person speaking is on the right.
Think for a second what that would be like. The audio would enter 1 side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where a person talking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t profound, sound direction is catchy.
Focusing on Sound
The brain also employs the ears to filter out background sound. It tells one ear, the one nearest to the sound you wish to focus on, to listen to a voice. Your other ear handles the background sounds. This is why at a noisy restaurant, you can still concentrate on the dialogue at the dining table.
When you can’t use that tool, the brain gets confused. It’s unable to filter out background noises like a fan running, so that is all you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The mind has a lot going on at any one time but having use of two ears allows it to multitask. That is the reason you’re able to sit and read your social media sites while watching TV or having a conversation. With just one functioning ear, the brain loses the ability to do something when listening. It has to prioritize between what you see and what you hear, so you usually lose out on the dialogue taking place without you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Impact
The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are unavailable 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 working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the trek.
If you are standing next to an individual with a high pitched voice, you may not know what they say unless you flip so the good ear is facing them. On the flip side, you might hear somebody having a deep voice just fine no matter what side they are on because they produce longer sound waves that make it to either ear.
Individuals with just minor hearing loss in just one ear tend to adapt. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a friend talk, for instance. For people who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work round that returns their lateral hearing to them.