Unilateral hearing loss, or single-sided deafness, is much more widespread than people realize, prominently in children. Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as a black and white — either somebody has typical hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on each side, but that ignores one particular form of hearing loss entirely.
A 1998 study estimated approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say that amount has increased in that last two decades. The fact is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it complications.
What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?
As its name implies, single-sided hearing loss indicates a decrease in hearing only in one ear. The hearing loss may be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense cases, profound deafness is potential. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing whatsoever and that individual is left with monaural sound quality — their hearing is limited to a side of their body.
Reasons for premature hearing loss differ. It can be the result of injury, for example, a person standing next to a gun firing on the left may end up with profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disease can lead to this problem, too, such as:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the origin, an individual who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing audio.
Direction of the Audio
The mind utilizes the ears nearly just like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on what ear registers it first and at the maximum volume.
Together 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 from the left ear, then your head will turn left to search for the noise even if the person talking is on the right.
Think for a second what that would be similar to. The audio would enter one side no matter where what direction it comes from. How would you know where an individual speaking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t profound, sound management is tricky.
Focusing on Audio
The brain also uses the ears to filter out background sound. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the noise that you wish to focus on, to listen to a voice. The other ear manages the background noises. That is why in a noisy restaurant, you may still concentrate on the conversation at the dining table.
When you don’t have that tool, the mind gets confused. It’s unable to filter out background sounds like a fan running, so that’s all 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’s why you can sit and examine your social media account while watching TV or talking with family. With just one working ear, the mind loses that ability to do one thing when listening. It must prioritize between what you see and what you hear, so you tend to miss out on the conversation around you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Impact
The mind shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap round the head and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the trek.
If you’re standing beside an individual having a high pitched voice, then you might not know what they say unless you turn so the working ear is on their side. On the flip side, you may hear someone having a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they’re on because they create longer sound waves that make it into either ear.
Individuals with just slight hearing loss in just one ear tend to accommodate. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to hear a friend talk, for instance. For those who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing.