Hearing loss in one ear is often described as unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness (SSD). SSD is a type of hearing loss where there is a complete hearing loss in one ear and anything from normal hearing to profound hearing loss in the other ear.

a child covering one ear

People who suffer from SSD can often have trouble locating sounds, understanding speech, focusing on a single voice and hearing high-frequency sounds. They may also experience severe tinnitus. The causes, effects and treatments of SSD are multiple.

Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear

There are a number of potential causes of SSD, which are likely to result in different symptoms and treatment methods. Some potential causes of SSD include:

  • Damage to the ear
  • Head trauma
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Mastoiditis
  • Waardenburg syndrome
  • Tumours
  • Burst blood vessel in the inner ear
  • Illnesses including measles, mumps and meningitis and more

The Impact of Single-Sided Deafness

There are a number of indicators that SSD or unilateral hearing loss may be present. The most obvious effects are that the person has trouble:

  • Hearing conversation on the impaired side
  • Focussing on a single voice in a noisy environment
  • Locating where sounds are originating

These difficulties are the result of a phenomenon called “the head shadow effect”. The head shadow effect describes the effect of high-frequency sounds which cannot be perceived due to their inability to travel around the head to reach the functioning ear. The high-frequency sounds, including many sounds used in speech, are “shadowed” by the head and are lost to the person with SSD. Low-frequency sounds, however, can bend around the head to reach the functioning ear. This makes sound depth perception difficult for the brain and sounds may seem flat or muddled, like when we try to speak to someone in a noisy environment and their voice becomes lost, or when someone at the other end of the phone is in a crowded street.

In addition to the head shadow effect, SSD has a number of other symptoms, including:

  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness or vertigo – feeling off balance
  • Headaches
  • Stress, irritability, anxiousness
  • Speaking loudly
  • Poor social and interpersonal skills
  • Poor communication skills

Treatment for SSD

While SSD is often permanent, many of the above effects of hearing loss in one ear are treatable. For tinnitus, which is often present when hearing loss occurs, special hearing tests and tinnitus treatments are available, including tinnitus retraining therapy.

To treat SSD, you will need to undergo a hearing test with an audiologist. They will assess your hearing loss and try to determine a cause before recommending a particular type of hearing aid suitable for your condition. The hearing aid should reduce the head shadow effect and may restore some of the lost sound.

If you’re experiencing hearing loss in one ear, book an appointment with the audiologists at one of Hearing And Audiology’s four locations. You can find a booking online or call us on 08 (08) 9388 8003 to discuss your symptoms.