Unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness, is much more widespread than people realize, prominently in children. As a result, the public sees hearing loss as being binary — somebody has normal hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that ignores one form of hearing loss entirely.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that amount has gone up in that last two decades.
What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?
As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a reduction in hearing only in one ear.In intense cases, profound deafness is potential.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss differ. It may be the result of trauma, for instance, someone standing beside a gun firing on the left may get moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disorder can lead to this issue, as well, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
No matter the cause, an individual with unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing audio.
Management of the Sound
The brain utilizes the ears almost like a compass. It identifies the direction of noise based on which ear registers it first and at the maximum volume. When somebody talks to you while standing on the left, the brain sends a signal to flip in that direction.
With the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear regardless of what direction it originates. If you have hearing in the left ear, then your head will turn left to look for the noise even when the person speaking is on the right.
Think for a minute what that would be like. The sound would always enter one side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where an individual speaking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t profound, sound management is tricky.
Honing in on Sound
The brain also employs the ears to filter out background noise. It tells one ear, the one nearest to the sound you want to focus on, to listen to a voice. The other ear handles the background noises. That is precisely why at a noisy restaurant, so you may still concentrate on the dialogue at the table.
When you can’t use that tool, the brain gets confused. It is unable to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that is everything you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The mind has a lot happening at any given time but having use of two ears allows it to multitask. That’s why you’re able to sit and read your social media account whilst watching Netflix or having a conversation. With only one working ear, the mind loses the ability to do one thing when listening. It has to prioritize between what you see and what you hear, which means you tend to lose out on the dialogue taking place without you while you browse your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The head shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap round the head and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the journey.
If you are standing next to a person with a high pitched voice, then you might not understand what they say if you don’t turn so the good ear is facing them. On the other hand, you may hear somebody having a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they are on because they produce longer sound waves that make it to either ear.
People with just slight hearing loss in only one ear tend to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to hear a friend speak, for example. For people who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing to them.