The Added Difficulties of Single Sided Deafness

Man suffering from single-sided hearing loss is only experiencing one half of the world because he can't hear the other.

Age-related hearing loss, which impacts many adults at some point, will become lateral, in other words, it affects both ears to a point. As a result, the public sees hearing loss as being binary — either someone has normal hearing in both ears or reduced hearing on each side, but that ignores one form of hearing loss completely.

A 1998 research thought that around 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It’s safe to say that number has increased in that last two decades.

What’s Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?

As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a decrease in hearing only in one ear.In extreme cases, deep deafness is possible. The dysfunctional ear is incapable of hearing at all and that person is left with monaural sound quality — their hearing is limited to a side of the human body.

Causes of unilateral hearing loss differ. It can be caused by trauma, for instance, a person standing beside 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, for example:

  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Measles
  • Waardenburg syndrome
  • Meningitis
  • Mastoiditis
  • Mumps
  • Microtia

No matter the cause, a person with unilateral hearing needs to adapt to a different method of processing audio.

Management of the Audio

The brain uses the ears nearly just like a compass. It identifies the direction of noise based on what ear registers it initially and in the highest volume.

Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the sound is only going to come in one ear regardless of what way it comes from. If you have hearing loss in the left ear, then your mind will turn to search for the sound even if the person speaking 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 understand where an individual talking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t deep, sound direction is catchy.

Honing in on Audio

The mind also uses the ears to filter out background sound. It tells one ear, the one nearest to the noise you want to focus on, to listen for a voice. The other ear manages the background sounds. This is precisely why in a noisy restaurant, so you may still concentrate on the dialogue at the table.

When you don’t have that tool, the mind gets confused. It is unable to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that is everything you hear.

The Ability to Multitask

The mind has a lot happening at any given time but having two ears enables it to multitask. That is why you can sit and examine your social media account while watching TV or talking with family. With only one working ear, the mind loses the ability to do one thing when listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, which means you usually lose out on the dialogue taking place without you while you browse your newsfeed.

The Head Shadow Effect

The mind shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have long frequencies so that they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not survive the journey.

If you’re standing next to an individual having a high pitched voice, then you may not know what they say if you don’t turn so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you might hear someone having a deep voice just fine regardless of what side they are on because they create longer sound waves that make it to either ear.

Individuals with slight hearing loss in just one ear have a tendency to adapt. They learn quickly to turn their head a certain way to hear a friend speak, for example. For those who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work round that yields their lateral hearing.

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