Unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness, is much more widespread than people realize, prominently in children. Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as being black and white — either someone has normal hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one particular form of hearing loss completely.
A 1998 research estimated approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It’s safe to say this number has increased in that past two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it complications.
What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?
As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a reduction in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, deep deafness is potential.
Reasons for premature hearing loss vary. It can be caused by injury, for instance, someone standing next to a gun fire on the left may end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease may lead to this problem, as well, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the cause, an individual who has unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different method of processing audio.
Direction of the Audio
The brain uses the ears almost just like a compass. It identifies the direction of sound based on which ear registers it initially and in the highest volume.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the sound is only going to come in one ear no matter what direction it comes from. If you have hearing in the left ear, your head will turn left to look for the noise even when the person speaking is on the right.
Pause for a minute and consider what that would be like. The sound would enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you know where an individual talking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t profound, sound direction is catchy.
Honing in on Sound
The brain also uses the ears to filter out background noise. It tells one ear, the one nearest to the sound you wish to concentrate on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear manages the background noises. This is why at a noisy restaurant, so you can still focus on the conversation at the table.
Without that tool, the brain gets confused. It’s unable to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that’s everything you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The brain has a lot going on at any given time but having use of two ears enables it to multitask. That is the reason you can sit and examine your social media sites while watching Netflix or talking with family. With just one functioning ear, the brain loses the ability to do one thing when listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, so you usually lose out on the conversation taking place without you while you browse your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The mind shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are inaccessible to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so that they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the trek.
If you’re standing next to an individual with a high pitched voice, then you may not know what they say unless you flip so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you may hear somebody with a deep voice just fine no matter what side they are on because they create longer sound waves that make it into either ear.
People with only slight hearing loss in only one ear tend to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to hear a buddy speak, for instance. For people who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work round that returns their lateral hearing.