Single-sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is much more widespread than people realize, notably in kids. Age-related hearing loss, which concerns many adults at some point, will become lateral, simply put, it affects both ears to some extent. As a result, the public sees hearing loss as a binary — someone has normal hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one form of hearing loss completely.
A 1998 study estimated around 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that number has increased in that last two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it it’s own problems.
What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Causes It?
As its name implies, single-sided hearing loss indicates a decrease in hearing only in one ear.In intense instances, deep deafness is potential.
Reasons for premature hearing loss vary. It can be the result of trauma, for instance, a person standing next to a gun firing on the left might end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease may lead to the problem, as well, for example:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
No matter the origin, a person with unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different method of processing audio.
Direction of the Sound
The brain utilizes the ears nearly just like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on what ear registers it initially and in the maximum volume. When a person talks to you while positioned on the left, the brain sends a message to flip in that direction.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear regardless of what direction it originates. If you have hearing from the left ear, then your mind will turn left to search for the sound even when the person talking is on the right.
Pause for a second and consider what that would be like. The audio would always enter 1 side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you know where a person speaking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t profound, sound direction is tricky.
Honing in on Audio
The mind also uses the ears to filter out background noise. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the sound you wish to focus on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear handles the background sounds. This is 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 becomes confused. It’s unable to filter out background sounds like a fan running, so that is everything you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The brain has a lot going on at any one time but having use of two ears allows it to multitask. That is why you’re able to sit and read your social media account whilst watching Netflix or having a conversation. With just one functioning ear, the mind loses the ability to do something while listening. It has to prioritize between what you see and what you hear, so you tend to lose out on the conversation around you while you browse your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The head shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are unavailable to an individual with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so they bend enough to wrap round the head and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not endure the journey.
If you’re standing next to a person having a high pitched voice, then you might not know what they say if you don’t turn so the working ear is on their side. On the other hand, you may hear someone having a deep voice just fine no matter what side they are on because they create longer sound waves that make it to either ear.
People with just slight hearing loss in only one ear have a tendency to accommodate. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a friend talk, for instance. For people who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing to them.