Possible Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s pretend you go to a rock show. You’re cool, so you spend the entire night up front. It’s not exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s fun, and the next day, you wake up with both ears ringing. (That part’s not so fun.)

But what if you awaken and can only hear out of one ear? Well, if that’s the situation, the rock concert might not be the cause. Something else must be going on. And when you develop hearing loss in one ear only… you might feel a bit alarmed!

Also, your overall hearing might not be working properly. Your brain is accustomed to sorting out signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from only one ear.

Why hearing loss in one ear leads to issues

Your ears generally work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual acuity, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So when one of your ears stops working correctly, havoc can happen. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • You can have trouble identifying the direction of sounds: Someone yells your name, but you have no idea where they are! It’s extremely difficult to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear functioning.
  • When you’re in a loud setting it becomes really difficult to hear: Loud settings like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with only one ear functioning. That’s because your ears can’t make heads or tails of where any of that sound is originating from.
  • You can’t be sure how loud anything is: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to determine volume. Think about it this way: If you can’t figure out where a sound is coming from, it’s difficult to detect whether that sound is quiet or just distant.
  • You wear your brain out: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can become overly tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s desperately trying to compensate for the loss of hearing from one of your ears. This is particularly true when hearing loss in one ear suddenly occurs. This can make a lot of activities throughout your daily life more exhausting.

So how does hearing loss in one ear happen?

“Single sided Hearing Loss” or “unilateral hearing loss” are scientific terms for when hearing is impaired on one side. Single sided hearing loss, unlike typical “both ear hearing loss”, typically isn’t the result of noise related damage. This means that it’s time to look at other possible causes.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Earwax: Yup, occasionally your earwax can get so packed in there that it cuts off your hearing. It has a similar effect to using earplugs. If this is the case, don’t grab a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can just cause a bigger and more entrenched problem.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most prevailing reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. This reaction isn’t always localized, so any infection that triggers swelling can result in the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Ruptured eardrum: Typical, a ruptured eardrum is difficult to miss. It can be due to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (amongst other things). And it occurs when there’s a hole between the thin membrane that separates your ear canal and middle ear. The outcome can be rather painful, and normally causes tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear and may sound a bit more intimidating than it usually is. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a serious (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should talk to your provider about.
  • Irregular Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in very rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the result of abnormal bone growth. And when it grows in a specific way, this bone can actually impede your hearing.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a chronic hearing condition that can result in vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing in one ear before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another common symptom of Meniere’s Disease.
  • Ear infections: Swelling typical results when you have an ear infection. And this swelling can close up your ear canal, making it difficult for you to hear.

So… What can I do about my single-sided hearing loss?

Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will vary depending on the underlying cause. In the case of certain obstructions (such as bone or tissue growths), surgery might be the ideal option. Some problems, like a ruptured eardrum, will normally heal by themselves. Other problems such as excessive earwax can be easily removed.

In some circumstances, however, your single-sided hearing loss may be permanent. And in these cases, we will help by prescribing one of two hearing aid options:

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass most of the ear by using your bones to convey sound to the brain.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This special kind of hearing aid is manufactured specifically for individuals with single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is received at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s detected by your brain. It’s very complicated, very cool, and very reliable.

Your hearing specialist is where it all starts

If you aren’t hearing out of both of your ears, there’s probably a reason. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be ignoring. It’s important, both for your wellness and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. So begin hearing out of both ears again by making an appointment with us.



The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.


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