Hearing Loss in One Ear – Likely Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s imagine you go to a rock show. You’re cool, so you spend all night in the front row. It’s enjoyable, although it’s not good for your ears which will be ringing when you get up in the morning. (That part’s less enjoyable.)

But what happens if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? The rock concert is probably not to blame in that situation. Something else must be happening. And you might be a little alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

In addition, your hearing might also be a little wonky. Usually, your brain is processing information from both ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.

Why hearing loss in one ear leads to problems

In general, your ears work as a functional pair. Just like having two front facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual sharpness, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So the loss of hearing in one ear can wreak havoc. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • You can have trouble distinguishing the direction of sounds: Someone calls your name, but you have no clue where they are! When your hearing goes out in one ear, it’s really very difficult for your brain to triangulate the origin of sounds.
  • It’s difficult to hear in noisy places: Loud settings like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with just one ear working. That’s because all that sound appears to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You can’t tell how loud anything is: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to figure out volume. Think about it like this: You won’t be sure if a sound is far away or simply quiet if you don’t know where the sound was originating from.
  • You tire your brain out: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can get extra tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s failing to get the complete sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working extra hard to compensate. And when hearing loss abruptly happens in one ear, that’s particularly true. This can make all kinds of activities throughout your daily life more exhausting.

So what causes hearing loss in one ear?

“Single sided Hearing Loss” or “unilateral hearing loss” are scientific names for when hearing is impaired on one side. While the more common type of hearing loss (in both ears) is normally the result of noise-related damage, single-sided hearing loss isn’t. So, other possible causes need to be considered.

Here are a few of the most common causes:

  • Other infections: One of your body’s most common responses to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. This reaction isn’t always localized, so any infection that causes inflammation can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will typically be very obvious. It can be caused by head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (amongst other things). And it occurs when there’s a hole between the thin membrane that divides your ear canal and middle ear. Usually, tinnitus and hearing loss along with a lot of pain result.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: It’s possible, in extremely rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the result of irregular bone growth. This bone can, when it grows in a particular way, hinder your ability to hear.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name might sound rather frightening, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a serious (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should talk to your provider about.
  • Ear infections: Swelling typical results when you have an ear infection. And this swelling can close up your ear canal, making it difficult for you to hear.
  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be blocked by excessive earwax packed in your ear canal. It has a similar effect to using earplugs. If you have earwax plugging your ear, never try to clear it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can just cause a bigger and more entrenched issue.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When somebody is dealing with the chronic condition known as Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not unusual with Menier’s disease to lose hearing in one ear before the other. Menier’s disease often comes with single sided hearing loss and ringing.

So how should I handle hearing loss in one ear?

Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will vary based upon the underlying cause. Surgery might be the best solution for certain obstructions like tissue or bone growth. Some problems, like a ruptured eardrum, will normally heal by themselves. Other problems such as excessive earwax can be easily removed.

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

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This distinctive kind of hearing aid is designed specifically for people who have single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is received at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s decoded by your brain. It’s very effective not to mention complex and very cool.
  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: To help you make up for being able to hear from one ear only, these hearing aids make use of your bones to move the sound waves to your brain, bypassing much of the ear completely.

Your hearing specialist is where it all starts

If you can’t hear out of both of your ears, there’s most likely a reason. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be neglecting. It’s important, both for your wellness and for the health of your hearing, to get to the bottom of those causes. So start hearing out of both ears again by scheduling an appointment with us.



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.

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