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Understanding unilateral hearing loss

When hearing is lacking in one ear, it can have more impact than you think. Learn what causes unilateral hearing loss, how to identify it and the steps you can take to start hearing better today.
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What is unilateral hearing loss?

The problem with one-sided hearing

Unilateral hearing loss refers to hearing loss that only occurs in one ear. A profound hearing loss can also be referred to as single-sided deafness. While unilateral hearing loss may often be viewed as minimal hearing loss - after all, you can still hear in your other ear, right? - hearing loss in one ear can have quite an impact on your daily routine.

If you believe you are living with hearing loss but aren’t quite sure where to start, a hearing screening can be a great first step. However, if your hearing loss has come on suddenly, be sure to contact your doctor. Sudden hearing loss may indicate a more severe condition and should be treated immediately.

Why do I need both ears?

If you’re struggling to hear in one ear but have a “good” ear, you may be tempted to put off seeking help. But there’s a reason we have two ears—and it’s not just for looks. Your ears actually work together to create a balanced, natural and clear sound. Hearing from both sides also means better identifying where a sound is coming from, keeping you safer and more aware of your surroundings.

Book an appointment with one of our hearing centers to get your hearing tested for unilateral hearing loss.

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Getting to the root of the problem

There are many causes of unilateral hearing loss, which can affect people of all ages. It can occur both suddenly or gradually overtime. Causes of unilateral hearing loss include exposure to a loud noise in one ear, genetics, ototoxic medications, earwax, or viral or bacterial infections. In rarer cases, a tumor on the auditory nerve can also lead to hearing loss in one ear.
Signs and symptoms

Recognizing unilateral hearing loss

The most common signs and symptoms of unilateral hearing loss include:
  • Difficulty hearing in one ear
    An individual may have trouble hearing sounds coming from one side, such as someone speaking on their affected side, and will often ask for others to talk in their “good” ear. They may also have difficulty determining where sounds are coming from.

  • Tinnitus
    Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is often a sign of unilateral hearing loss and is most commonly experienced in the affected ear.
  • Dizziness or balance problems
    One of the common symptoms of unilateral hearing loss is a disturbance in the sense of balance. This can result in feelings of dizziness or unsteadiness, making it difficult to maintain balance or walk straight. This happens because our ears play an important role in helping us maintain our balance.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, as early detection and treatment can greatly improve hearing outcomes.
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Unilateral hearing loss audiogram

Decoding your hearing screening results

An audiogram is a visual representation of a person's hearing ability, showing the quietest level of sound they can hear at different frequencies (pitches) on a graph. In the case of unilateral hearing loss, there will be a larger discrepancy between the hearing abilities of each ear. One ear will indicate normal hearing abilities, while the other will indicate a certain level of hearing loss.

The audiogram below demonstrates what a unilateral hearing loss could look like. The left ear, indicated by the blue line with an X, shows normal hearing, where as the right ear, indicated by the red line and O, shows a hearing loss within the higher frequencies.

Book an appointment with one of our hearing centers to get your hearing tested for unilateral hearing loss.

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Example of symbols audiograms

Healthy living helps your hearing

There is no magic formula to prevent unilateral hearing loss, but there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk:
  • Protect your ears from loud noises
    Loud noises, such as concerts, loud music, and industrial or construction noise, can damage your hearing over time. To reduce your risk, it's important to limit exposure to loud noises and wear protective gear, such as earplugs, when necessary.
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  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    Good health practices, such as not smoking, avoiding certain medications that are known to damage hearing, and managing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can help protect your hearing.
  • Get regular hearing check-ups
    Regular hearing screenings can detect any hearing loss early on, allowing for prompt treatment and reducing the risk of further damage. We recommend scheduling a hearing screening with a Hearing Care Professional to ensure your ears are in good health.

Addressing unilateral hearing loss

The specific cause of your unilateral hearing loss will determine the best course of treatment. If a buildup of wax, for example, is causing hearing issues in one ear, your Hearing Care Professional can remove the wax and your hearing should be restored. Other causes, including viral or bacterial infections, may be treated with antivirals, antibiotics or steroids.

There are times, however, that unilateral hearing loss may be permanent. If this is the case, your Hearing Care Professional can help you find ways to manage your hearing loss. Hearing aids are a great way to take back your hearing health.

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Did you know?

Pinpointing sound

Known as localization, our ears work together to figure out where sound is coming from. Our brains compare cues like soundwave intensity, timing and other subtle differences in sounds received from both ears to determine where it actually originated.
Expert advice

It's a balancing act

Regular exercise enhances physical and mental health, balance, and coordination. This can aid in coping with the balance effects of unilateral hearing loss. Yoga or tai chi, for example, can improve stability and offer low-impact exercise.

Unilateral hearing loss: FAQ

What causes hearing loss in one ear?

How common is unilateral hearing loss?

How do you know if you have hearing loss in one ear?

What does it mean when you lose hearing in your left ear?

What does it mean when you lose hearing in your right ear?

Can hearing loss in one ear be fixed?

Can you get a hearing aid for just one ear?

What is the cost of one hearing aid?

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