Potential Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

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

But what happens if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? Well, if that’s the situation, the rock concert may not be the culprit. Something else must be going on. And when you experience hearing loss in one ear only… you might feel a little worried!

Also, your general hearing may not be working right. Your brain is accustomed to sorting out signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from only one ear.

Why hearing loss in one ear results in problems

Generally speaking, your ears work together. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual clarity, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So when one of your ears quits working properly, havoc can result. Here are a few of the most prevalent:

  • You can have trouble identifying the direction of sounds: You hear somebody trying to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t find where they are. It’s exceptionally difficult to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear functioning.
  • When you’re in a noisy setting it becomes really difficult to hear: With only one working ear, loud spaces like restaurants or event venues can suddenly become overwhelming. That’s because your ears can’t figure out where any of that sound is coming from.
  • You have difficulty detecting volume: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to figure out volume. Think about it this way: You won’t be certain if a sound is distant or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
  • You wear your brain out: When you lose hearing in one ear, your brain can become overly tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s failing to get the whole sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working overly hard to compensate. This is especially true when hearing loss in one ear happens suddenly. This can make all kinds of tasks during your day-to-day life more exhausting.

So how does hearing loss in one ear happen?

Hearing specialists call muffled hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” While the more ordinary 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 should be assessed.

Some of the most prevalent causes include the following:

  • Ear infections: Ear infections can trigger swelling. And this swelling can block your ear canal, making it difficult for you to hear.
  • Earwax: Yup, occasionally your earwax can get so packed in there that it blocks your hearing. It’s like using an earplug. If this is the situation, do not grab a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can just create a worse and more entrenched problem.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a chronic hearing condition that can result in vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing in one ear before the other. Menier’s disease often is accompanied by single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will usually be very obvious. It can be related to 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 as well as a lot of pain are the outcomes.
  • Irregular Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in very rare cases, that hearing loss on one side can be the result of abnormal bone growth. And when it grows in a particular way, this bone can actually interfere with your hearing.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear and may sound a little more intimidating than it normally is. You should still take this condition seriously, even though it isn’t cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most common reactions to infection. It’s just what your body does! Swelling in response to an infection isn’t always localized so hearing loss in one ear can be caused by any infection that would cause inflammation.

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

Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will differ based upon the underlying cause. Surgery may be the best option for certain obstructions like tissue or bone growth. Some issues, like a ruptured eardrum, will usually heal on their own. Other problems such as too much earwax can be easily removed.

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

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This distinctive type of hearing aid is designed exclusively for those who have single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids are able to detect sounds from your plugged ear and transfer them to your brain via your good ear. It’s quite effective not to mention complicated and very cool.
  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: To help you make up for being able to hear from only one ear, these hearing aids use your bones to move the sound waves to your brain, bypassing most of the ear completely.

Your hearing specialist is the beginning

If you aren’t hearing out of both of your ears, there’s probably a reason. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be ignoring. Getting to the bottom of it is essential for hearing and your overall health. So schedule a visit with us today, so you can begin hearing out of both ears again!



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.