Age-related hearing loss, which impacts many adults sooner or later, will become lateral, to put it another way, it affects both ears to some point. Because of this, the average person sees hearing loss as being binary — someone has normal hearing in both ears or reduced hearing on each side, but that ignores one form of hearing loss entirely.
A 1998 research thought that approximately 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It is safe to say that number has increased in that last two decades.
What is Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Makes It?
As the name suggests, single-sided hearing loss suggests a decrease in hearing only in one ear.In extreme cases, deep deafness is possible.
Causes of unilateral hearing loss vary. It may be the result of injury, for instance, someone standing beside a gun fire on the left might end up with moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease may lead to this issue, as well, for example:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Waardenburg syndrome
Whatever the origin, a person who has unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different way of processing sound.
Management of the Sound
The brain utilizes the ears almost just like a compass. It identifies the direction of noise based on what ear registers it initially and at the highest volume. When a person talks to you while positioned on the left, the brain sends a signal to flip in that way.
Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the sound will only come in one ear regardless of what way it comes from. In case you have hearing from the left ear, your mind will turn left to look for the sound even if the person speaking is on the right.
Think for a minute what that would be like. The sound would enter 1 side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where a person speaking to you personally is standing? Even if the hearing loss is not deep, sound direction 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 noise you wish to focus on, to listen for a voice. Your other ear manages the background sounds. This is precisely why at a noisy restaurant, you can still focus on the dialogue at the dining table.
When you don’t have that tool, the brain gets confused. It’s unable to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that is everything you hear.
The mind has a lot happening at any given time but having two ears enables it to multitask. That is the reason you’re able to sit and read your social media account whilst watching Netflix or talking with family. With only one working ear, the brain loses that ability to do something when listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, so you tend to miss out on the dialogue around you while you browse your newsfeed.
The Head Shadow Effect
The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to a person with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the head and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not endure the trek.
If you are standing beside an individual with a high pitched voice, then you may not understand what they say if you don’t turn so the good ear is facing them. On the other hand, you might hear someone having a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they create longer sound waves that make it into either ear.
Individuals with only minor hearing loss in only one ear tend to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a buddy speak, for instance. For those who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work round that yields their lateral hearing to them.