What is unilateral hearing loss?

Hearing loss in one ear, also called unilateral hearing or single sided deafness, can be frustrating and, at times, isolating. But, there’s no need to worry. Unilateral hearing loss isn’t always permanent, and there are plenty of treatment options along with a range of things you can do to make your daily life easier.

Unilateral hearing loss symptoms

With unilateral hearing loss, as it only affects one ear, it’s usually more obvious when you start experiencing hearing loss, or problems. Symptoms will vary depending on the person, but common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty hearing conversations, especially in busy environments

  • Difficulty understanding where sounds are coming from

  • Struggling to tell how loud a sound is

  • Problems hearing people from one side

  • Speech can sound muffled, and you might struggle with ‘s’ or ‘f’ sounds

  • Reduced spatial awareness

Unilateral hearing loss causes

There are a number of different reasons why you may be suffering from unilateral hearing loss. These include:

Unilateral hearing loss treatment

Unfortunately, while there is no cure for unilateral hearing loss, depending on the cause, there are several treatment options available that can restore some, if not all sense of hearing to the affected ear. 

In certain cases where hearing loss is irreversible, an auditory implant or hearing aid or will increase the chances of hearing, while in others, depending on the cause, treatment options might include:

  • antibiotics to treat any infections

  • steroids to reduce swelling and inflammation

  • surgery to repair any damage

  • treatment for any blockages such as earwax

Living with profound unilateral hearing loss

How unilateral hearing loss affects you will depend on a number of factors, including the severity of the loss. For example, if the loss is profound, that means you will be unable to hear anything from one of your ears, while the other will remain unaffected. This is also called single-sided deafness  Similarly, those with only mild unilateral hearing loss will likely be able to hear the majority of speech, but will struggle with softer sounds.

However, if you are living with profound unilateral deafness, while it can be difficult and scary, there are a number of things you can do to make your daily life easier:

  • Make adjustments to improve communication: from making sure people have your full attention when they talk to you, to facing others when they’re speaking and repeating important information back, are all small lifestyle changes that can make a significant difference

  • Alert people to your hearing problem: simply telling people that you cannot hear out of one ear means they’ll be more likely to direct their speech to the side you can hear from. Similarly, telling people exactly what you need - such as them looking directly at you when they’re speaking - is a great way to ensure your communication is as effective as can be

  • Turn off background noise: if you can, removing any background noise while you’re having a conversation can go a long way towards helping you to better understand speech without having to strain

  • Get support: there are plenty of groups - both online and in real life - that are designed to support those with hearing loss or problems, and assist you in meeting those in a similar situation for sharing tips and advice

Frequently asked questions

Is unilateral hearing loss considered a disability?
While there is a common assumption that hearing loss in one ear, or imbalance hearing, is only minimally disabling, any form of hearing loss can be classified as a disability, especially if it affects your day to day life, along with how you communicate.
What can cause hearing loss in one ear?
There are several factors that can cause hearing loss in one ear including a blockage in your ear, a perforated eardrum, infection, or as the result of certain diseases such as Ménière’s disease.
Can people with unilateral hearing loss benefit from wearing hearing aids?

If you’re suffering from unilateral hearing loss, and are struggling to hear conversations when there is background noise, a hearing aid can help to amplify what you're missing.

If you’re an existing hearing aid wearer, assisted devices like remote microphones are great for noisy environments, as they amplify the sound of speech directly into the aids themselves.

Is unilateral hearing loss permanent?

Severe or profound unilateral hearing loss can be permanent, but it does depend entirely on the cause of the problem. For example, if your SSD is a result of a perforated eardrum, it is unlikely it can be fixed, while, if it's due to impacted earwax, with treatment, hearing is likely to improve.

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