Hearing Loss in One Ear – Likely Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Because you’re so hip, you rocked out in the front row for the whole rock concert last night. It’s enjoyable, though it isn’t good for your ears which will be ringing when you wake up in the morning. (That part’s less enjoyable.)

But what if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? Well, if that’s the case, the rock concert might not be the cause. Something else must be happening. And you may be a little concerned when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

Moreover, your overall hearing may not be working properly. Your brain is accustomed to sorting out signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.

Hearing loss in one ear creates problems, this is why

Your ears basically work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Your two outward facing ears help you hear more precisely, much like how your two forward facing eyes help your depth perception. So the loss of hearing in one ear can wreak havoc. Amongst the most prominent effects are the following:

  • Pinpointing the direction of sound can become a great challenge: Somebody yells your name, but you have no clue where they are! It’s extremely hard to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear working.
  • When you’re in a loud setting it becomes really hard to hear: With only one functioning ear, loud settings like restaurants or event venues can suddenly become overwhelming. That’s because your ears can’t determine where any of that sound is originating from.
  • You have trouble discerning volume: You need both ears to triangulate direction, but you also need both to determine volume. Think about it this way: You won’t be certain if a sound is distant or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
  • 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 failing to get the whole sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working overly hard to make up for it. And when hearing loss suddenly happens in one ear, that’s especially true. This can make all kinds of activities during your day-to-day life more exhausting.

So what’s the cause of 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, unlike common “both ear hearing loss”, typically isn’t caused by noise related damage. So, other possible factors should be assessed.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be obstructed by too much earwax packed in your ear canal. It’s like wearing an earplug. If this is the situation, do not grab a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can jam the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name may sound rather intimidating, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a serious (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should talk to your provider about.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can cause swelling. And this swelling can block your ear canal, making it extremely hard for you to hear.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most common reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just what your body does! This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that causes inflammation can result in the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Ruptured eardrum: Usually, a ruptured eardrum is difficult to miss. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (among other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. And it occurs when a hole is created between the thin membrane that divides your ear canal and middle ear. The outcome can be rather painful, and normally leads to tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: In extremely rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss could actually be some irregular bone growth getting in the way. This bone can, when it grows in a particular way, interfere with your ability to hear.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a chronic hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing in one ear before the other. Menier’s disease frequently is accompanied by single sided hearing loss and ringing.

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

Depending on what’s causing your single-sided hearing loss, treatments will differ. Surgery might be the best choice for certain obstructions such as tissue or bone growth. A ruptured eardrum or similar issues will usually heal on their own. And still others, like an earwax based blockage, can be cleared away by simple instruments.

Your single-sided hearing loss, in some cases, may be permanent. And in these cases, we will help by prescribing one of two hearing aid solutions:

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This unique type of hearing aid is manufactured exclusively for those with 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 complicated, very cool, and very effective.
  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass much of the ear by utilizing your bones to convey sound to the brain.

It all begins with your hearing specialist

There’s probably a good reason why you’re only hearing out of one ear. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be ignoring. Getting to the bottom of it is essential for hearing and your overall health. So start hearing out of both ears again by making 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.