Age-related hearing loss, which worries many adults at some point, will be lateral, in other words, it affects both ears to a extent. As a result, the public sees hearing loss as being black and white — someone has healthy hearing in both ears or reduced hearing on each side, but that ignores one particular kind of hearing loss altogether.
A 1998 research estimated 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 Causes It?
As its name suggests, single-sided hearing loss suggests a decrease in hearing just in one ear.In intense instances, profound deafness is possible. The nonfunctioning ear is incapable of hearing whatsoever and that person is left with monaural audio quality — their hearing is limited to a side of their body.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss vary. It may be the result of injury, for instance, someone standing next to a gun fire on the left may end up with profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disease can lead to this problem, too, for example:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the origin, a person who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing sound.
Management of the Sound
The brain uses the ears nearly like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on which ear registers it first and at the highest volume. When somebody speaks to you while standing on the left, the brain sends a message to flip in that direction.
With the single-sided hearing loss, the sound is only going to come in one ear regardless of what direction it originates. If you have hearing loss in the left ear, then your head will turn to search for the noise even when the person talking is on the right.
Think for a second what that would be similar to. The audio would enter 1 side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where an individual speaking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not profound, sound management is catchy.
Honing in on Audio
The brain also employs the ears to filter out background noise. It tells one ear, the one closest to the sound that you want to focus on, to listen for a voice. The other ear handles the background noises. This is why in a noisy restaurant, you can still focus on the conversation at the table.
When you can’t use that tool, the brain becomes confused. It is unable to filter out background noises like a fan running, so that is all you hear.
The Ability to Multitask
The mind has a lot going on at any one time but having use of two ears enables it to multitask. That is why you can sit and examine your social media account whilst watching Netflix or talking with family. With only one working ear, the mind loses that 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 Impact
The mind shadow effect describes how certain sounds are unavailable to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the trek.
If you’re standing next to a person having a high pitched voice, then you might not understand what they say if you don’t turn so the working ear is on their side. On the flip side, you may hear someone with a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they produce longer sound waves that make it into either ear.
People with only minor hearing loss in just one ear have a tendency to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a friend speak, for example. For those who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work around that yields their lateral hearing to them.