Do you struggle to hear in one ear but not the other? It’s pretty common that your hearing loss is more pronounced in one ear over the other. Hearing loss can be categorized as unilateral or bilateral – meaning the ability to hear in one ear or in both. Another way to classify hearing levels is to determine their ability to hear in each ear. This is known as asymmetrical when there is an imbalance or symmetrical hearing when both ears have similar hearing ability. Unilateral hearing loss is estimated to affect 60,000 in the US. However more common is bilateral hearing loss affecting one in eight people in the US ages 12- 69 -equaling around 30 million people or 13 percent of the entire population. Often when ear is stronger than the other, people begin to describe it as their “good ear.” Even in these instances this still indicates a bilateral hearing loss – meaning a loss in both ears and it should be treated as such.
The Importance of Two Ears
When only one ear has a hearing loss it’s referred to as “unilateral.” We have two ears for a reason. Two ears allow us to hear the directions of sounds. It helps us to determine where they are coming from, how far they are and how fast they may be approaching. Those who have a unilateral hearing loss or a bilateral hearing loss where one ear is worse than the other may be subject to accidents and falls which may lead to hospitalization.
We may be less aware when out in the world of approaching traffic, bicycles, and pedestrians and even in our own home may misjudge or miss important sounds which may cause us to trip and fall. Two ears also help us to separate background noise and speech. When we hear unevenly, crowded parties and social situations may become a challenge and overtime it’s common to choose to avoid them all together – leading to self-isolation and loneliness even when surrounded by those you love.
Bilateral Hearing Loss
There are many causes of bilateral hearing loss including factors in the outer, middle, or inner ear or a combination. The most common causes include advanced age (60 and up), exposure to excessive noise, family history, certain medications, infection, impact to the head, exposure to environmental toxins or chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. These causes all contribute to sensorineural hearing loss a permanent condition which stems from damage to tiny cells within the middle ear which impede the delivery of sound from the ears to the brain.
The Importance of Two Hearing Aids
Unilateral hearing loss commonly can be caused by virus, growths in the inner ear, damage to one side of the head or legions in the inner ear. However, even in cases where only one ear is damaged two hearing aids are still recommended. It’s common for patients to want to avoid two hearing aids if they feel they don’t need them because of the increased cost an hassle. However, we hear with two ears for a reason. Balanced hearing keeps us safe and as a result there are hearing aids designed to emulate bilateral hearing.
CROS and BiCROS Hearing Aids
CROS stands for Contralateral Routing of Signals. When you wear a CROS system, you wear hearing aids on both ears, even though you can’t hear in one of them. The sound detected by the aid on the “bad ear” is transmitted directly to the aid on the “good ear” side. This removes what is known as the shadow effect, where sound from one side of the head is shadowed due to poor hearing on the other side, making you less aware and less alert of sounds in your environment.
BICROS are similar to CROS hearing aids but designed for the wider population which may have a “good ear” but has hearing loss in both ears. Bi stands for bilateral hearing loss and while you can hear better in one ear they make sure that both sure that you can hear your best in both ears.
Schedule a Hearing Exam
If you’ve been having trouble hearing in one ear and it’s important to take it seriously. Schedule a hearing exam today for the safety of you and all those around you!