What is single sided deafness?

Here's what you need to know about single sided deafness, and how it can be treated.

Written by Dr Phillip Chang

Surgical hearing specialists have long understood the devastating impact of hearing loss in both ears. But until recently, the impact of single sided hearing loss has been underestimated, as has the new and unique role of hearing implants that address this condition.

What are the symptoms?

People with single sided deafness have problems not only locating the source of sounds but also coping with everyday conversations. Because our brain uses both ears when processing sound, problems arise when it can only rely on one.

The symptoms of this condition vary but may include:

  • Being unable to reliably identify where sounds are coming from.
  • Difficulty hearing speech in a noisy environment.
  • Lack of awareness of sound if it’s coming from the ‘deaf’ side.

These symptoms can lead to increased stress levels and result in making many social or business occasions exhausting and frustrating. Difficulty in determining the direction of sounds is also potentially dangerous, particularly when crossing the street, trying to navigate in traffic or when an emergency services vehicle siren is sounding.

"Unlike age-related hearing loss, single sided deafness often occurs in middle age, with the average age at onset between 46 to 49 years."

Common complications

  • 70-93% report a high degree of hearing difficulty, regardless of age.
  • 54-84% report tinnitus.
  • 12-41% are in need of additional educational assistance in children.
  • 22-35% increased rate of grade failures.
  • 25% out of work several years after onset.

How do you get single sided deafness?

Over 3000 new cases of single sided deafness are diagnosed each year in Australia. Unlike age-related hearing loss, single sided deafness often occurs in middle age, with the average age at onset between 46 to 49 years.

While you can be born with this condition, it can also occur later in life as a result of a physical trauma, such as a blow to the head, Meniere’s disease, measles, mumps or meningitis, a viral or bacterial infection in the middle ear, sudden deafness, or pressure on the hearing nerve.

How cochlear implants can help

While some people learn to live well with the condition, the ability to compensate is always incomplete. Major life changes are often needed when people feel they can’t function in particular situations.

Hearing loss, whether sudden or a result of progressive long-standing ear disease, is often associated with severe loss of hearing clarity. This makes hearing aids, which amplify sound, inappropriate. A cochlear implant may be the only option to restore hearing.

Studies have found cochlear implantation greatly benefits people with single sided deafness, improving speech understanding, sound localisation, speech perception and tinnitus.

If you or a loved one are seeking solutions to regain your hearing and reconnect with life, visit Cochlear for more information.

Written by Dr Phillip Chang

Dr Phillip Chang is one of Australia's leading and most experienced cochlear implant surgeons. He is the founding surgeon and director of Hearing Implants Australia and the Sydney Children's Hospital cochlear implant program.

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