Age-related hearing loss, which affects many adults sooner or later, tends to become lateral, to put it another way, it affects both ears to some extent. As a result, the average person sees hearing loss as being black and white — someone has healthy hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one particular form of hearing loss completely.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that number has gone up in that last two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it unique challenges.
What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?
As its name suggests, single-sided hearing loss indicates a reduction in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss may be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense cases, deep deafness is potential. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing at all and that person is left with monaural sound quality — their hearing is limited to one side of their human body.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss differ. It may be the result of trauma, for example, someone standing beside a gun firing on the left might end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disorder can lead to this issue, too, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the cause, an individual who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different method of processing sound.
Direction of the Sound
The mind utilizes the ears nearly like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on which ear registers it initially and at the highest volume. When somebody talks to you while positioned on the left, the brain sends a message to turn in that way.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the sound will only come in one ear no matter what direction it originates. If you have hearing from the left ear, your head will turn left to search for the sound even if the person speaking is on the right.
Pause for a minute and consider what that would be similar to. The audio would always enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where a person talking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound management is tricky.
Honing in on Audio
The brain also employs the ears to filter out background sound. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the noise that you wish to focus on, to listen to a voice. Your other ear handles the background sounds. This is why at a noisy restaurant, so you can still concentrate on the dialogue at the table.
When you don’t have that tool, the brain becomes confused. It’s unable to filter out background sounds like a fan running, so that’s all you hear.
The mind has a lot happening at any one time but having two ears allows it to multitask. That is why you’re able to sit and read your social media account while watching Netflix or talking with family. With just one working ear, the mind loses that ability to do one thing when listening. It has to prioritize between what you see and what you hear, which means you tend to miss out on the conversation taking place without you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The head shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are unavailable to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the head and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t endure the trek.
If you’re standing beside a person with a high pitched voice, you may not know what they say unless you turn so the good ear is facing them. On the other hand, you might hear somebody with a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they are on because they create longer sound waves which make it into either ear.
Individuals with just slight hearing loss in only one ear tend to accommodate. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a buddy speak, for example. For those who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that returns their lateral hearing to them.