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 awesome, so you spend the entire night up front. It isn’t exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s fun, and the next day, you wake up with both ears ringing. (That part’s not so 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 case. Something else must be going on. And when you experience hearing loss in one ear only… you may feel a bit worried!

What’s more, your hearing may also be a little out of whack. Normally, your brain is sorting out information from both ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.

Why hearing loss in one ear results in problems

Your ears generally work together (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual acuity, having two side facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So hearing loss in one ear can wreak havoc. Here are a few of the most prevalent:

  • You can have trouble distinguishing the direction of sounds: Somebody yells your name, but you have no clue where they are! When your hearing disappears in one ear, it’s really challenging for your brain to triangulate the origin of sounds.
  • It’s hard to hear in noisy places: With only one functioning ear, noisy spaces like restaurants or event venues can suddenly become overwhelming. That’s because your ears can’t make heads or tails of where any of that sound is coming from.
  • You have trouble discerning volume: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to determine volume. Think about it like this: You won’t be certain if a sound is distant or just quiet if you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
  • You tire your brain out: Your brain will become more exhausted faster if you can only hear out of one ear. That’s because it’s failing to get the whole sound spectrum from only one ear so it’s working extra hard to make up for it. And when hearing loss suddenly happens in one ear, that’s particularly true. basic daily activities, as a result, will become more exhausting.

So what causes hearing loss in one ear?

Hearing specialists call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” While the more common kind of hearing loss (in both ears) is typically the result of noise-related damage, single-sided hearing loss isn’t. This means that it’s time to consider other possible causes.

Here are a few of the most prevalent causes:

  • 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 clogging your ear, never try to clear it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can jam the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Ear infections: Ear infections can cause swelling. And this swelling can close up your ear canal, making it difficult for you to hear.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear and might sound a little more intimidating than it normally is. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a serious (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should consult your provider about.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: In really rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss may actually be some irregular bone growth getting in the way. And when it grows in a particular way, this bone can actually interfere with your hearing.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a degenerative hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease progresses asymmetrically: one ear may be impacted before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another typical symptom of Meniere’s Disease.
  • 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 triggers swelling can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will typically be very obvious. It can be due to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (amongst other things). When the thin membrane separating your ear canal and your middle ear has a hole in it, this kind of injury occurs. Usually, tinnitus and hearing loss along with a lot of pain result.

So… What can I do about my single-sided hearing loss?

Depending on what’s triggering your single-sided hearing loss, treatment options will vary. In the case of particular obstructions (like bone or tissue growths), surgery might be the ideal solution. A ruptured eardrum or similar problems will normally heal on their own. And still others, like an earwax based obstruction, can be cleared away by basic instruments.

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

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass most of the ear by using your bones to transfer sound to the brain.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This kind of uniquely manufactured hearing aid is specifically made to treat single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids are able to detect sounds from your impacted ear and send them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very effective not to mention complicated and very cool.

Your hearing specialist is where it all starts

If you aren’t hearing out of both of your ears, there’s likely a reason. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be ignoring. It’s important, both for your well-being and for the health of your hearing, to get to the bottom of those causes. So start hearing out of both ears again by making 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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    Dr. Laura Padham, Audiologist

    Ocean Gate, NJ

    143 W Barnegat Avenue
    Ocean Gate, NJ 08740

    Mobile Services in:Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, Somerset, Union, Essex, Hudson, Bergen, Passaic, Atlantic, Mercer, and Burlington Counties.

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