Hearing Loss in One Ear – Potential Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s imagine you go to a rock show. You’re cool, so you spend all night up front. It’s enjoyable, though it isn’t good for your ears which will be ringing when you wake up in the morning. (That’s not so enjoyable.)

But what happens if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? The rock concert is probably not to blame in that case. Something else could be at work. And when you experience hearing loss in one ear only… you may feel a bit worried!

Moreover, your general hearing may not be working right. Your brain is used to sorting out signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from only one ear.

Hearing loss in one ear creates issues, here’s why

Your ears generally work together (no pun intended) with each other. Your two outward facing ears help you hear more accurately, similar to how your two front facing eyes help with depth perception. So the loss of hearing in one ear can wreak havoc. Among the most prominent effects are the following:

  • Pinpointing the direction of sound can become a great challenge: You hear someone trying to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t locate where they are. It’s extremely difficult to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear working.
  • It’s challenging to hear in noisy locations: Loud settings such as event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with only one ear functioning. That’s because all that sound seems to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You can’t tell how loud anything is: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to determine volume. Think about it this way: You won’t be sure if a sound is far away or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
  • Your brain becomes exhausted: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can become overly tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s desperately trying to make up for the loss of hearing from one of your ears. And when hearing loss suddenly occurs in one ear, that’s particularly true. This can make all kinds of tasks during your day-to-day life more exhausting.

So how does hearing loss in one ear occur?

Hearing experts call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” Single sided hearing loss, in contrast to typical “both ear hearing loss”, usually isn’t the result of noise related damage. So, other possible factors should be considered.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can trigger swelling. And this inflammation can block your ear canal, making it impossible for you to hear.
  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be obstructed by excessive earwax packed in your ear canal. It’s like wearing an earplug. If you have earwax blocking your ear, never try to clean it out with a cotton swab. A cotton swab can just cause a worse and more entrenched issue.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear and might sound a little more intimidating than it usually is. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a significant (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should speak with your provider about.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a chronic hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. In many cases, the disease advances asymmetrically: one ear may be affected before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another common symptom of Meniere’s Disease.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will typically be really obvious. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (amongst other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. When the thin membrane separating your ear canal and your middle ear gets a hole in it, this type of injury happens. Usually, tinnitus and hearing loss along with a lot of pain result.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most common reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just what your body does! This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that triggers swelling can result in the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: In really rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss may actually be some atypical bone growth getting in the way. And when it grows in a specific way, this bone can actually hinder your hearing.

So… What do I do about my single-sided hearing loss?

Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will vary based upon the root cause. Surgery may be the best solution for certain obstructions like tissue or bone growth. Some problems, like a ruptured eardrum, will normally heal by themselves. Other issues such as too much earwax can be easily cleared away.

Your single-sided hearing loss, in some circumstances, might be permanent. And in these situations, we will help by prescribing one of two hearing aid options:

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass much of the ear by using your bones to transfer sound to the brain.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This special kind of hearing aid is manufactured specifically for those who have single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is received at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s decoded by your brain. It’s very effective not to mention complicated and very cool.

It all starts with your hearing specialist

There’s probably a good reason why you’re only hearing out of one ear. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be neglecting. It’s important, both for your well-being and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. So begin hearing out of both ears again by scheduling an appointment with us.



The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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