Alex O'Brien


The dangers of single sided deafness

The dangers of single sided deafness

There are many people who don’t think single sided deafness is a serious condition. It would be natural to assume that if the other ear is working, there must be no problems with hearing loss. Right? However, nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are naturally designed to process sound from two ears. This is called binaural hearing. Hearing with only one ear is much harder for us to do.

If you have deafness in one ear, it can make conversation in a noisy room almost impossible. It can make social interaction exhausting and frustrating, resulting in irritability, stress, anxiety, and headaches. With only one working ear, it can be hard to hear and understand speech and it is difficult for the brain to distinguish the origin of sounds, such as the direction of footsteps or a ringing telephone.

Worse, it can make everyday life situations dangerous such as being unable to locate the direction of an emergency siren when driving or even oncoming traffic when crossing the road.

What is single sided deafness?

Single sided deafness (SSD) is also known as Unilateral Hearing Loss and is, as the name suggests, the loss of hearing in one ear. This loss can range from mild to profound. There are several potential causes for this condition, including: Sudden deafness; physical damage to the ear; pressure on the hearing nerve; inner ear problems including infections (viral or bacterial); and diseases such as Meniere's, measles, mumps and meningitis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of single sided deafness vary, but most often it is difficult for the person experiencing deafness to locate a sound source. For example, they may have difficulty determining where a voice is coming from when someone speaks from their deaf side. They may also miss out on conversations or have trouble communicating in certain situations.

How can implantable hearing solutions help?

Some people try to use hearing aids, but these often don’t help, particularly if the problem is due to damage to the cochlea or inner ear or if there are significant problems with middle ear function. Even sound amplification from the most powerful hearing may not help.

The good news is that there are other solutions available. Cochlear implants and Baha Bone Conduction Implant Systems are recognised as effective treatments for single sided deafness. Recent studies have suggested that cochlear implantation can benefit people with single sided deafness by improving speech understanding and sound localisation, and suppressing tinnitus.

Hearing with a cochlear implant can help you to understand speech in noisy environments, and also identify which direction sound is coming from. This makes it easier to follow group discussions. When someone starts to speak, being able to tune in immediately and react quickly gives you a feeling of confidence.

Living proof

Tobin Fonseca boarded a plane with full hearing and disembarked hearing in only one ear.

“The dramatic shift from being able to hear, to single sided deafness was a big adjustment,” he said. “I don’t think people realise how traumatic it is to lose hearing on one side. It was virtually impossible to even know that I was being spoken to, let alone hear what was being said.”

Tobin was diagnosed with suspected Meniere’s disease and his hearing in his left ear never recovered.

“With only single sided hearing, I found many day to day activities difficult," he said. “It was difficult to hear in meetings and I lost the ability to determine sound direction. Even communicating with my executive assistant, who sits 1.5m from my desk, was near impossible. 

“I couldn’t hear properly when I went to a restaurant, nor attend any type of work or social function. At home my partner would speak to me while walking away and it was impossible for me to hear.”

Tobin tried a few hearing devices, which didn’t really help, so he decided to have a Cochlear implant.

“The benefits I have had as a result of my cochlear implant are many," he said. "I know where sounds are coming from. I can hear in meetings; I can hear at social gatherings; I can hear music. My implant has far exceeded what I thought would be possible after losing my hearing."

Main advantages of hearing with both ears:

  • Ability to localise sound
  • Able to ‘tune-in’ to sounds when there is background noise
  • Hearing more natural sound with two listening ears
  • Participate in conversations at social functions
If you or a loved one are seeking solutions to regain your hearing and reconnect with life, visit Cochlear to get free hints and tips for better hearing.

Related links:

Managing hearing loss is more than getting hearing aids

Quotes about hearing for first time

This is what hearing loss sounds like