Single-sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is much more common than people realize, particularly in children. 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 kind of hearing loss entirely.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say this number has gone up in that last 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 Causes It?
As the name suggests, single-sided hearing loss indicates a reduction in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense instances, 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 a side of their body.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss differ. It can be the result of injury, for instance, someone standing beside a gun firing on the left might end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease can lead to the problem, as well, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the cause, a person with unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing sound.
Management of the Audio
The brain utilizes the ears almost just like a compass. It identifies the direction of sound based on what ear registers it first and at the highest volume.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear regardless of what way it comes from. If you have hearing from the left ear, your mind will turn left to look for the noise even if 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 personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not profound, sound management is catchy.
Focusing 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 concentrate on, to listen to a voice. The other ear handles the background sounds. This is why in a noisy restaurant, you can still focus on the conversation at the dining table.
Without that tool, the mind becomes confused. It is not able to filter out background sounds like a fan blowing, so that’s everything you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The mind has a lot happening at any given time but having use of two ears enables it to multitask. That is why you can sit and read your social media account while watching Netflix or having a conversation. 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, so you tend to miss 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 unavailable to an individual with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the head and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the trek.
If you’re standing next to a person with a high pitched voice, you may not understand what they say unless you flip so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you might hear someone 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.
Individuals with just minor hearing loss in only one ear tend to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to hear a buddy talk, for example. For those who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing to them.