Hearing Loss in One Ear – Potential Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s pretend you go to a rock concert. You’re awesome, so you spend the entire night up front. It’s fun, though it isn’t good for your ears which will be ringing when you get up the next morning. (That’s not as fun.)

But what if you wake up and can only hear out of one ear? Well, if that’s the case, the rock concert may not be the culprit. Something else could be at work. And you might be a little alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

In addition, your hearing may also be a little wonky. Your brain is used to sorting out signals from two ears. So only receiving signals from a single ear can be disorienting.

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

Generally speaking, your ears work together. Just like having two front facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual acuity, having two side facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So hearing loss 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 somebody trying to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t find where they are. When your hearing goes out in one ear, it’s really challenging for your brain to triangulate the origin of sounds.
  • When you’re in a noisy setting it becomes really difficult to hear: Loud places like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with just one ear functioning. That’s because your ears can’t determine where any of that sound is coming from.
  • You can’t tell how loud anything is: Just like you need both ears to triangulate location, you kind of need both ears to figure out how loud something is. Think about it this way: You won’t be certain if a sound is far away or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound was originating from.
  • Your brain becomes tired: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can become extra tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s desperately trying to compensate for the lack of hearing from one of your ears. And when hearing loss abruptly occurs in one ear, that’s particularly true. This can make all kinds of activities throughout your day-to-day life more exhausting.

So how does hearing loss in one ear happen?

“Single sided Hearing Loss” or “unilateral hearing loss” are technical names for when hearing is impaired on one side. Single sided hearing loss, in contrast to typical “both ear hearing loss”, typically isn’t the result of noise related damage. So, other possible factors need to be considered.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will usually be very evident. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (amongst other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. And it happens when there’s a hole between the thin membrane that divides your ear canal and middle ear. The result can be rather painful, and typically causes tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: In really rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss might actually be some atypical bone growth getting in the way. And when it grows in a certain way, this bone can actually impede your hearing.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can trigger swelling. And it will extremely difficult to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a chronic hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing on one side before the other. Menier’s disease frequently comes with single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name may sound rather frightening, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. You should still take this condition seriously, even though it’s not cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Earwax: Yup, sometimes your earwax can get so packed in there that it cuts off your hearing. It’s like wearing an earplug. If you’re experiencing earwax plugging your ear, never try to clean it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can just create a worse and more entrenched problem.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most prevailing reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that triggers inflammation can result in the loss of hearing in one ear.

So how should I address hearing loss in one ear?

Depending on what’s causing your single-sided hearing loss, treatment options will vary. In the case of certain obstructions (such as bone or tissue growths), surgery might be the appropriate solution. A ruptured eardrum or similar problems will usually heal on their own. Other issues like excessive earwax can be easily cleared away.

In some circumstances, however, your single-sided hearing loss could be permanent. And in these cases, we will help by prescribing one of two hearing aid options:

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

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This type of uniquely made hearing aid is specifically made to treat single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids are able to identify sounds from your impacted ear and send them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very complex, very cool, and very reliable.

It all starts with your hearing specialist

There’s probably a good reason why you can only hear out of one ear. It’s not something that should be ignored. It’s important, both for your wellness and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. So schedule a visit with us today, so you can begin hearing out of both ears again!



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.