Age-related hearing loss, which worries most adults at some point, tends to be lateral, that is, it affects both ears to some degree. As a result, the average person sees hearing loss as a black and white — either somebody has typical hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one form of hearing loss altogether.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that amount has increased in that past two decades.
What’s Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Makes It?
As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss indicates a reduction in hearing only in one ear. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In extreme cases, deep deafness is potential. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing at all and that individual is left with monaural audio quality — their hearing is limited to one side of the human body.
Reasons for premature hearing loss differ. It can be caused by injury, for instance, someone standing beside a gun fire on the left might end up with profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disease may lead to this issue, as well, for example:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
No matter the origin, a person who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing sound.
Direction of the Sound
The mind utilizes the ears almost like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on which ear registers it first and at the highest volume.
With the single-sided hearing loss, the sound will only come in one ear no matter what direction it comes from. In case you have hearing in the left ear, then your head will turn left to search for the noise even when the person talking is on the right.
Pause for a second and consider what that would be similar to. The sound would enter 1 side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where an individual talking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound management is catchy.
Honing in on Audio
The mind also employs the ears to filter out background sound. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the sound that you wish to concentrate on, to listen to a voice. The other ear handles the background sounds. This is why in a noisy restaurant, so you may still focus on the conversation at the table.
When you don’t have that tool, the brain becomes confused. It is not able 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 given time but having two ears allows it to multitask. That is the reason you can sit and read your social media account while watching Netflix or talking with family. With only one working ear, the mind loses the ability to do something while listening. It must prioritize between what you see and what you hear, so you usually miss out on the dialogue around you while you navigate your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The mind shadow effect clarifies how certain sounds are unavailable to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so they bend enough to wrap round the mind and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the trek.
If you are standing next to an individual having a high pitched voice, you might not understand what they say if you don’t turn so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you might hear somebody with a deep voice just fine no matter what side they are on because they produce longer sound waves which make it into either ear.
Individuals with only minor hearing loss in only one ear have a tendency to adapt. They learn fast to turn their head a certain way to hear a friend speak, for instance. For people who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work round that returns their lateral hearing to them.