Single-Sided Deafness: What it is and How to Treat it

Single-Sided Deafness: What it is and How to Treat it

Experiencing hearing loss is difficult. 

In group conversations or at events with a lot of background noise, it can be incredibly challenging to understand what people are saying. 

Sitting next to friends and family and asking them to talk into your ‘good ear’ is often necessary to participate in conversations. Sometimes sounds can’t be heard at all from your deaf side which can be incredibly frustrating. Figuring out where sounds are coming from is nearly impossible. Our brains need equal sound from both ears to localize to where sounds are coming from. 

If any of this sounds familiar, you may find your physician diagnosing you with single-sided deafness (SSD).

There is no cure for SSD, but don’t lose hope—there are ways you can treat it so that you can hear again on your deaf side.

Before we discuss how to treat your SSD, let's talk about what it is and what causes it.

What Is Single-Sided Deafness?

Single-Sided Deafness (SSD) is the significant or total loss of hearing in one ear. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent.

It can occur at any time during your life and sometimes even overnight. In most cases, it’s caused by unknown reasons, but it can also be due to:

  • Physical damage to the ear
  • Viral or bacterial infections in the inner ear
  • Tumors located in the ear or brain
  • Severe Meniere’s disease 
  • Head trauma
  • Diseases like measles, mumps or meningitis

What Problems Does Single-Sided Deafness Cause?

Being deaf in one ear can cause many problems and challenges in your day-to-day life. One of the most difficult challenges you’ll have to overcome is figuring out which direction certain sounds are coming from. An issue that hinders this is the so-called “head shadow effect.”

The “head shadow effect” prevents you from picking up the sound of consonants from your deaf side. They have a shorter wavelength and unlike vowel sounds (which have a much longer wavelength), they can’t travel from the deaf side to the hearing side. 

Consonants carry the most meaning in speech, which can make it frustrating when trying to communicate with people - especially in an area with a significant amount of background noise. 

Although it may be difficult to localize sound in an area full of background noise, using sound localization or directionality is a very important aspect of managing your SSD. Localizing sound will help you communicate better and be safer overall in your daily life.

When you can’t hear from one side, things that would often seem mundane and basic to other people, like crossing the street or going for a jog, become quite difficult and at times, dangerous. 

You may find yourself in a difficult communication situation when you’re:

  • Communicating in a large group, as it can be hard to hear people over the sound of other people talking 
  • Whispers in quiet environments into your deaf ear can be very difficult to pick up
  • Communicating while in a car if your deaf ear is facing the driver

The above situations and many more like it can affect your day-to-day activities. You might find yourself easily irritated or become a lot jumpier than before in certain situations. If you have SSD, it's also common to develop stress headaches from a feeling of isolation and constant communication difficulties. 

Take this situation, for example, eating at a restaurant with friends. Watch as the subject is presented with the same situation, but in the second example with their deaf ear towards the person talking to them:

Treating Single-Sided Deafness 

The deaf ear receives no clinical benefit from amplification in SSD cases. Meaning, no matter how loud a hearing aid can make the sound, the speech will never be clear or understandable in that ear. The other ear usually has normal hearing ability, although this is sometimes not the case. 

The only way to completely restore binaural hearing (hearing on both sides) is with a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants have been the first choice to treat SSD in Europe for years, however, it has only recently been approved in the United States by the FDA. A cochlear implant is the only way sound can once again stimulate the deafened hearing nerve and restore binaural sound processing. While this treatment option offers the best outcomes, it is the most invasive and may not always be covered by the patient’s insurance. 

In cases where patients do not want to undergo the surgery of a cochlear implant or the subsequent auditory training period, there are other treatments that can help return the sensation of hearing on their bad side, by sending those sounds into the good ear. The most common treatments used for SSD are BAHA (bone-anchored hearing aid) or the CROS (contralateral routing of signal) and BiCROS (bilateral contralateral routing of signal) hearing aid systems.

What’s The Difference Between CROS and BiCROS?

The CROS hearing aid system is usually worn by people who suffer from SSD. It involves a transmitter that is worn on the deaf ear and is used to pick up sounds from the deaf ear, then sending it to the receiver, which is worn in the ear that can hear. 

The BiCROS hearing aid system is usually worn by people who suffer from hearing loss in both ears, but one ear is deaf and the other is aid-able. In cases like this, the transmitter is worn on the person’s deaf ear. The transmitter then picks up the sound from the deaf ear and sends it to the receiver that is worn on the ear that can hear better. The better-hearing ear does still have a loss of hearing, but the amplification provided helps the ear to pick up the information coming from the deaf ear. 

What is a BAHA?

BAHA or bone-anchored hearing aids come in two parts:

  1. A surgically implanted transmitter that sends sounds through the bone to the inner ear
  2. A small sound processor that is usually attached to the outside of the head and behind the ear

With the BAHA, it will convert sound into vibrations and transfer them through either an abutment or magnet to the implant. This will then transfer the vibrations through the skull to the inner ear.

If you’re concerned about your hearing or think you might need a hearing device, get your hearing tested, we are available to help you with any implantable or non-implantable solutions for your SSD. Schedule an appointment by calling us on (916) 646-2471.

Interested in learning more? Attend one of our regular hearing solution events to learn more about our unique approach to hearing loss or give us a call at 916-646-2471.

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