Hearing Loss in One Ear – Potential Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Because you’re so cool, you rocked out in the front row for the whole rock concert last night. It’s enjoyable, though it’s not good for your ears which will be ringing when you get up in the morning. (That part’s not so fun.)

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 could be at work. And when you develop hearing loss in one ear only… you might feel a little worried!

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

Hearing loss in one ear causes problems, here’s why

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

  • You can have trouble distinguishing the direction of sounds: Someone yells 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.
  • When you’re in a loud setting it becomes really difficult to hear: Loud places like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with only one ear functioning. That’s because all that sound appears to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You have trouble discerning volume: You need both ears to triangulate direction, but you also need both to figure out volume. Think about it this way: You won’t be sure if a sound is far away or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
  • Your brain becomes exhausted: Your brain will become more exhausted faster if you can only hear from one ear. That’s because it’s failing to get the complete sound spectrum from only one ear so it’s working extra hard to compensate. And when hearing loss abruptly happens in one ear, that’s particularly true. Normal everyday activities, as a result, will become more taxing.

So what causes hearing loss in one ear?

“Single sided Hearing Loss” or “unilateral hearing loss” are technical names for when hearing is impaired on one side. While the more common kind of hearing loss (in both ears) is typically caused by noise-related damage, single-sided hearing loss isn’t. This means that it’s time to evaluate other possible factors.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will usually be really obvious. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (among other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. When the thin membrane dividing your ear canal and your middle ear gets a hole in it, this kind of injury happens. Normally, tinnitus and hearing loss along with a great deal of pain result.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear and may sound a bit more intimidating than it usually is. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a serious (and possibly life-threatening) condition that you should speak with your provider about.
  • Ear infections: Swelling typical happens when you have an ear infection. And it will extremely difficult to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.
  • Earwax: Yup, occasionally your earwax can get so packed in there that it blocks your hearing. It’s like wearing an earplug. If this is the case, do not reach for a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can just cause a bigger and more entrenched issue.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most common responses to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. Swelling in response to an infection isn’t always localized so hearing loss in one ear can be caused by any infection that would trigger inflammation.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in very rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the outcome of irregular bone growth. And when it grows in a certain way, this bone can actually interfere with your hearing.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When someone is coping with the degenerative condition known as Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease progresses asymmetrically: one ear might be impacted before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another common symptom of Meniere’s Disease.

So how should I deal with hearing loss in one ear?

Treatments for single-sided hearing loss will differ depending on the root cause. In the case of specific obstructions (such as bone or tissue growths), surgery may be the appropriate option. Some problems, like a ruptured eardrum, will normally heal on their own. And still others, such as an earwax based obstruction, can be cleared away by simple instruments.

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

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: To help you compensate for being able to hear from one ear only, these hearing aids use your bones to move the sound waves to your brain, bypassing most of the ear altogether.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This distinctive type of hearing aid is manufactured specifically for individuals with single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids are able to identify sounds from your plugged ear and send them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very complicated, very cool, and very reliable.

It all begins with your hearing specialist

There’s most likely a good reason why you’re only hearing out of one ear. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be neglecting. It’s important, both for your well-being and for the health of your hearing, to get to the bottom of those causes. So begin 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.