Unilateral hearing loss is when a person experiences a normal level of hearing in one ear while their other ear has a hearing loss of some degree. Unilateral hearing loss, sometimes shortened to UHL and sometimes referred to as Single Sided Deafness (SSD) is a form of hearing loss that affects millions of people all around the world.
Some of the difficulties that people suffering from UHL experience include:-
- Being unable to indulge in conversations from the impaired side
- Determining speech and conversations amidst background noise
- Localising where sound is coming from
In quiet conditions where the sufferer can focus on communication it is often easier and they are able to experience a level of hearing that is comparable to people who are regarded as having a normal level of hearing. However, in environments where there is more noise, it can be difficult for unilateral hearing loss sufferers to engage in conversation and communicate as freely as they would like to.
Causes of Unilateral Hearing Loss
There are a number of recognised causes for unilateral hearing loss, including:-
- Waardenburg Syndrome
- Acoustic Neuroma
- Physical Trauma
Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss
Unilateral hearing loss provides difficulties for sufferers and their families, but the level of this will depend a lot on the degree of loss. Difficulties caused by profound unilateral hearing loss can be much more difficult. This is where a person has one ear which provides them with no hearing ability at all. People who suffer from this are said to be able to only hear in monaural, or "in mono" as many people would refer to it.
People who suffer from this will often find it difficult to pick out specific sounds or speech amidst a backdrop of noise. Research indicates that when background noise and speech are presented to the listener at the same level, they can only pick up on around one third of the conversation. This places a greater level of importance on the profound UHL sufferers to listen intently and strain to hear the conversation. In the long term, this can have negative implications on their health and well-being. It also makes it much more difficult to engage properly in conversation. People that are focusing so intently on hearing what is being said will often find that they are unable to engage in the conversation at the same time. It can be helpful for a profound UHL sufferer to find an optimum seating position when they are in company, but this can be problematic or limiting.
Suffering from single sided deafness also provides problems when determining the movement of sound sources, how far these sources are from people and the direction where sounds are coming from. Research has shown that people suffering from hearing loss in one ear believe that they suffer a far greater handicap than people who suffer with hearing loss in both ears.
Research has discovered that people suffering from profound unilateral hearing loss will often find that they are:-
- Under stress
- Suffering from headaches
- Experience social isolation
- Appear anxious and nervous
- Will suffer from varying degrees of light dizziness
- Struggle in determining where sounds come from
- Will be misdiagnosed as suffering from ADHD
- Will seemingly lack awareness of other people around them
- Seeming lack of awareness of other peoples personal space and moods
- Struggle with depth of sound
While many of the problems caused by unilateral hearing loss are infuriating and frustrating there can be a more serious side when they may place the sufferer in danger. Hearing the traffic is a great way to determine the safety of crossing a road and if a person has no hearing in one ear, they need to take additional care to ensure that they can cross safely.
Some sufferers will find that they talk loudly. This is down to the fact that they are not hearing everything so they raise their voice until they can- as we constantly monitor what we are saying. Unfortunately, this may cause other people in the area who are unaware of what the person is suffering from to make a judgment on their personality. This is why many people suffering from UHL; have been classed as domineering or even boorish, even though this is not what their actual personality is like.
Unilateral Hearing Loss in Children
Studies of children suffering from unilateral hearing loss have often shown that they have poorer grades and are in need of additional assistance in their education. The classroom environment can be a difficult one when a teacher is trying to project to an entire classroom. This is where the school has to be aware of the pupils situation and should do what they can to provide the right seating area and as much assistance as they can for a child.
For the reasons stated above with respect to how UHL impacts on a person’s personality and the nature of school children picking on people who are different, it is perhaps understandable that childhood sufferers of UHL can have a difficult time. In many cases, their reaction and frustrations will lead to them being classed as suffering from behavioural problems. This can further impact on their studies and educational opportunities, leading UHL sufferers to lag behind in their studies.
Another issue that many unilateral hearing loss sufferers find comes with wearing headphones. These hearing devices are set up to deliver sound into both ears, which means that a single sided deaf person wearing headphones will often only hear half of the music. There is a growing availability of products that cater for people who require a mono based listening experience but it is important to ensure that the right sort of product is bought.
The growing acceptance of the difficulties faced by people suffering from UHL should ensure that more support is provided to them but there is still a need for more to be done to help sufferers out.