Unilateral Hearing Loss (UHL) Impacts Quality of Life and Safety

Unilateral Hearing Loss (UHL) is also called Single-Sided Hearing Loss, which means that only one ear has some degree of loss. When the loss becomes profound, it is referred to as Single-sided Deafness (SSD). Roughly 7% of adults in the United States have some degree of UHL.

We hear our best when the brain gets equal sound input from both ears. The ears then work together to let us hear effortlessly in some sort of “stereo” mode. In the case of UHL, uneven sound input disrupts the easy listening experience. The steeper the hearing loss is, the more bothersome and potentially risky single-sided hearing loss becomes.

What causes UHL?

The exact reasons for UHL are often unclear. Sometimes UHL can be present at birth (congenital). Sometimes it develops later in life. Among others, damage to the affected ear from repeated, untreated infections, an auto-immune attack, excessively loud sound exposures and head trauma all figure on the lengthy list of UHL causes. Might there be a genetic component?

In my case, a sudden left-sided deafness morphed into a severe, troublesome and vexing single-sided hearing loss after treatment and some healing. Sound disparity is very noticeable and distracting. I call this “lopsided” hearing. Even a hearing aid does not correct the UHL-related sound asymmetry – BUT it is better than no help at all.

Quality of Life and Safety concerns

There are various reasons why unilateral hearing loss impacts quality of life and safety:

  1. UHL becomes tiring and stressful, especially if tinnitus is also buzzing away in the affected ear. Gone is the effortless “stereo” hearing. Also, the good or better ear becomes overused and stressed, which could lead to earlier and faster hearing damage.
  2. UHL makes it difficult to tell the direction of sound (sound localization). This is a serious Safety & Accident Risk, especially if sounds come from sources that one does not see – from behind or from the sides: A biker calling out from behind or a car approaching from the side in a parking lot etc. Where are they? I hear pretty much everything in my right (better) ear although the sound source may actually be to my left! And so, it is important to remain visually aware of one’s surroundings.
  3. UHL increases Fall & Injury Risks. Good hearing is part of good balance. Balanced sound input from both ears helps the brain maintain equilibrium. Those with UHL have to be extra cautious in challenging situations such as stairs, slippery surfaces and, as I found out, in noise-confused, loud places.

Importance of professional testing.

A comprehensive, professional hearing test determines the type and degree of hearing loss in the affected ear. The results then help decide what kind of technology may benefit the patient. It all depends on the case.

For mild to moderate cases, a well-adjusted hearing aid may lessen the sound disparity and ease hearing. In my case, getting some sound back into the ear helps more with balance and equilibrium than with hearing and understanding.

CROS (Contralateral Routing of Signal) could be indicated. With the CROS technique, the better ear also hears for the damaged one. For severe to profound loss, a cochlear implant (CI) or a bone-anchored implant might be considered. Again, it all depends on the case.

Give help a chance.

Sadly, people may choose to live with their UHL and do nothing nothing about it. After all, they still “hear.” They say that they “manage” or “cope.” Meanwhile, they overly stress their better ear and compromise their quality of life and safety. A better approach is to get at least tested. Then, based on those results, a decision can be made on how to proceed.

And so, to paraphrase a famous John Lennon song lyric line: ” All I am saying, is give help a chance.”


For presentations on hearing loss prevention, contact me at [email protected]. Also, visit loopminnesota.org for information on communication access technology for the hard-of-hearing