Possible Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s imagine you go to a rock concert. You’re cool, so you spend the entire night in the front row. It isn’t exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s fun, and the next morning, you wake up with both ears ringing. (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 might not be the cause. Something else may be at work. And you might be a bit alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

Moreover, your overall hearing might not be working properly. Normally, your brain is processing information from both ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.

Why hearing loss in one ear results in problems

Your ears generally work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two front facing eyes helps you with depth perception and visual clarity, having two side facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So when one of your ears stops working correctly, havoc can happen. Here are some of the most prevalent:

  • Pinpointing the direction of sound can become a real challenge: Someone calls your name, but you have no clue where they are! It’s exceptionally hard to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear working.
  • When you’re in a noisy setting it becomes really hard to hear: With only one functioning ear, noisy spaces like restaurants or event venues can suddenly become overwhelming. That’s because all that sound seems to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You can’t be sure how loud anything is: You need both ears to triangulate direction, but you also need both to figure out volume. Think about it like this: If you can’t determine where a sound is coming from, it’s impossible to know whether that sound is quiet or just away.
  • You wear your brain out: Your brain will become more exhausted faster if you can only hear from one ear. That’s because it’s trying desperately to make up for the lack of hearing from one of your ears. This is especially true when hearing loss in one ear happens suddenly. Standard everyday tasks, as a result, will become more exhausting.

So what causes hearing loss in one ear?

Hearing specialists call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” Single sided hearing loss, in contrast to common “both ear hearing loss”, typically isn’t caused by noise related damage. So, other possible causes should be assessed.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Earwax: Yup, sometimes your earwax can become so packed in there that it blocks your hearing. It’s like using an earplug. If this is the case, do not reach for a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can jam the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When someone is coping with the degenerative condition known as Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing on one side before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another common symptom of Meniere’s Disease.
  • Ruptured eardrum: Usually, a ruptured eardrum is difficult to miss. It can be related to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (amongst other things). And it happens when a hole is created between the thin membrane that separates your ear canal and middle ear. Normally, tinnitus and hearing loss along with a lot of pain result.
  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most prevailing reactions to infection. It’s just how your body responds. This reaction isn’t always localized, so any infection that causes inflammation can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name might sound rather intimidating, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. While it isn’t cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a significant (and possibly life-threatening) condition that you should talk to your provider about.
  • Irregular Bone Growth: In very rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss could actually be some atypical bone growth getting in the way. This bone can, when it grows in a specific way, interfere with your ability to hear.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can cause swelling. And this inflammation can close up your ear canal, making it extremely hard for you to hear.

So… What do I do about my single-sided hearing loss?

Depending on what’s triggering your single-sided hearing loss, treatment options will differ. In the case of specific obstructions (such as bone or tissue growths), surgery might be the ideal solution. Some issues, like a ruptured eardrum, will usually heal by themselves. And still others, including an earwax based blockage, can be removed by basic instruments.

In some cases, however, your single-sided hearing loss could be permanent. We will help, in these cases, by prescribing one of two potential hearing aid options:

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This unique kind of hearing aid is designed specifically for people who have single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is picked up at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s detected by your brain. It’s very complex, very cool, and very effective.
  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: To help you make up for being able to hear from one ear only, these hearing aids make use of your bones to conduct the sound waves to your brain, bypassing most of the ear completely.

Your hearing specialist is where it all starts

There’s most likely a good reason why you can only hear out of one ear. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be ignoring. Getting to the bottom of it is important for hearing and your general health. So begin hearing out of both ears again by scheduling an appointment with us.



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.