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Man suffering from single-sided hearing loss is only experiencing one half of the world because he can't hear the other.

Single sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss is more prevalent than people realize, notably in children. Age-related hearing loss, which concerns most adults at some point, tends to become lateral, simply put, it affects both ears to some point. Because of this, the public sees hearing loss as a black and white — either someone has normal hearing in both ears or decreased hearing on each side, but that dismisses one particular form of hearing loss entirely.

A 1998 research estimated approximately 400,000 kids had a unilateral hearing loss due to injury or disease at the time. It is safe to say this amount has gone up in that past two decades. The truth is single-sided hearing loss does occur and it brings with it complications.

What is Single-Sided hearing loss and What Makes It?

As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a reduction in hearing just in one ear. The hearing loss may be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. In intense cases, deep deafness is potential.

Causes of unilateral hearing loss vary. It may be caused by trauma, for example, a person standing next to gunfire on the left might get moderate or profound hearing loss in that ear. A disease may lead to the problem, too, for example:

  • Measles
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Meningitis
  • Waardenburg syndrome
  • Mastoiditis
  • Microtia
  • Mumps

No matter the cause, a person with unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing audio.

Direction of the Audio

The mind uses the ears nearly like a compass. It defines the direction of sound based on which ear registers it initially and at the maximum volume.

Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise will only come in one ear no matter what direction it comes from. In case you have hearing loss in the left ear, then your mind will turn to look for the noise even if the person speaking is on the right.

Pause for a second and consider what that would be like. The audio would always enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where a person speaking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t deep, sound management is catchy.

Focusing on Sound

The mind also employs the ears to filter out background sound. It informs one ear, the one nearest to the noise you wish to concentrate on, to listen to a voice. The other ear handles the background noises. This is precisely why in a noisy restaurant, you may still focus on the conversation at the dining table.

When you can’t use that tool, the mind becomes confused. It is not able to filter out background sounds like a fan running, so that’s everything you hear.

The Ability to Multitask

The mind has a lot going on at any given time but having two ears allows it to multitask. That’s why you can sit and read your social media account whilst watching Netflix or talking with family. With just one functioning ear, the mind loses that ability to do one thing while listening. It has to prioritize between what you see and what you hear, which means you usually lose out on the dialogue around you while you browse your newsfeed.

The Head Shadow Effect

The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual having a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap around the mind and reach the ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and do not endure the trek.

If you’re standing beside an individual with a high pitched voice, you may not know what they say if you don’t flip so the working ear is facing them. On the flip side, you may hear someone having a deep voice just fine no matter what side they are on because they produce longer sound waves that make it into either ear.

Individuals with just slight hearing loss in just one ear have a tendency to accommodate. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a friend speak, for instance. For people who struggle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid might be work around that yields their lateral hearing.