Single-sided deafness (SSD), also referred to as unilateral hearing loss is a condition in which hearing has been lost in one ear and it is more common than most people realize. While the hearing is normal in one ear, hearing loss in another ear can range from mild to severe. For someone who has not experienced SSD it is hard to understand the major life changes that come with this type of hearing loss. This condition can easily cause individuals to withdraw from important social and professional activities.
Possible causes of SSD
Individuals who suffer hearing loss in only one ear report no comprehension difficulty in a quiet environment or one on one conversations. However, noisy areas such as restaurants and gyms make it very difficult to understand a conversation. Potential causes of single-sided deafness include:
- Head injury
- Exposure to loud noise
- Physical damage to the ear
- Blockage of the ear
- Prescription drugs
Hearing difficulties can also be the outcome of aging. Some of these causes are easy to fix, like wax build up, others are unfortunately irreversible.
Difficulties associated with SSD
When only one ear is able to collect information, the auditory centers are lacking the complete acoustic picture which is normally provided by both ears. One-sided hearing loss can create difficulties for the sufferer as well as for his family. Impact of SSD on a person’s life depends on the degree of the hearing loss. Most common symptoms that people with single-sided deafness experience are as follows:
- Locate sound sources – inability to figure out where the sound is coming from. Our brain recognizes the direction of the sound based on which ear receives the sound first.
- Hearing in noisy environments – SSD makes it hard to focus on a single person’s voice. It makes it almost impossible to separate a background noise from target sounds.
- Communication difficulties– people are unable to indulge in conversation from the impaired side.
Treatment for SSD
If you’re experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms, the best course of action is to make an appointment with your audiologist. Based on your symptoms and causes he will be able to provide a treatment option best suited for your condition. Depending on the cause he may recommend surgery, medications or hearing aids. He may also order a hearing test where they will measure how you respond to a range of sounds at different volume levels.
The cause of your hearing problem will determine a proper treatment option. For example, wax build-up can easily be treated by your doctor by gently removing the earwax. If some prescription medications are the cause of your hearing loss, your doctor will suggest the proper substitute for them. Infection of the ear will be treated with antibiotics.
Hearing devices for SSD
Sometimes the effects of SSD become overwhelming, and many withdraw from their normal activities instead of reaching for help. A lot of people try to solve this problem by themselves and without consulting a hearing professional they turn to traditional hearing aids. Problem is that these are often not solutions because they only amplify sound. The good news is that there are other solutions available. SSD is usually treatable through the opposite ear. Some hearing devices can help you restore the sensation of hearing from both sides. These devices transfer sound from the deaf side to the hearing ear.
Contralateral routing of signal (CROS) -this hearing aid consists of a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is placed in the deaf ear while the receiver is placed in the functioning ear. CROS hearing aids can be wired or wireless.
Bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA system)– this is a surgical alternative in which the titanium implant is placed in the bone behind a deaf ear. This system sends sound through the bone, from the damaged ear to the working inner ear on the other side.
Considering the fact that both of these hearing devices have the same benefits and limitations the outcome is very similar. Individuals with hearing deficit who are using the above mentioned hearing aids reported that life is more comfortable with this device than without one.
Dealing with SSD
Any degree of hearing loss means that a person is in disadvantage when it comes to listening and understanding speech. Inability to identify the origin of sound is not only annoying, it can be dangerous. For example, hearing traffic is one of the ways to protect yourself when crossing a street. Single sided deafness can also cause anxiety, headaches and slight dizziness. This type of hearing impairment does affect the daily life. For all of these reasons, if you are experiencing single-sided hearing loss make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Getting a proper treatment or necessity hearing aids will help you to return to your normal activities stress-free.