Hearing loss on one side

Hearing Loss on One Side

Hearing loss on one side occurs when you have difficulty hearing or deafness that affects only one of your ears. This may lead to problems understanding speech in crowded environments, locating the source of a sound, and tuning out background noise.

This condition is also known as unilateral hearing loss or unilateral deafness. It may be described as deafness in one ear or on one side, hearing loss in one ear, or inability to hear from one ear. You should be able to hear clearly with your other ear.

You should always contact your doctor if you experience hearing loss in one ear. Sudden hearing loss on one side is a medical emergency and needs immediate medical attention. Your doctor will be able to provide treatment options and may refer you to a specialist.

Depending on the cause of your hearing loss your doctor might recommend medications, surgery, or a hearing aid. In some cases, the condition will go away without treatment.

What Causes Hearing Loss on One Side?

There are many possible causes, including:

  • injury to the ear
  • exposure to loud noises or certain drugs
  • tumor
  • illness

It may also be a natural outcome of aging. Some causes are reversible, like wax buildup in the ear canal or ear infections with fluid buildup. Some are irreversible, like those due to mechanical problems within the ear itself.

In addition to head or ear injuries or the presence of a foreign body in the ear, the following medical conditions can result in hearing loss on one side:

  • acoustic neuroma — a type of tumor that affects hearing
  • beriberi — a disease that occurs from lack of vitamin B1
  • brittle bone disease
  • ear drum rupture
  • labyrinthitis, which causes the ear to become swollen and irritated
  • Meniere’s disease, which affects the inner ear and eventually leads to deafness
  • middle ear infection
  • neurofibromatosis type 2 — an inherited disease in which noncancerous growths appear on the auditory nerve, which carries information from the inner ear to the brain
  • otitis externa (swimmer’s ear) — inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal
  • otitis media with effusion — thick or sticky fluid behind the eardrum
  • Paget’s disease of the bone
  • Reye’s syndrome
  • shingles
  • temporal arteritis — inflammation and damage to the blood vessels in the head and neck
  • vertebrobasilar insufficiency — poor blood flow to the back of the brain

Hearing loss in one ear may also be the result of prescription medications like:

  • chemotherapy drugs
  • diuretics
  • streptomycin
  • kanamycin

How Is Hearing Loss in One Ear Diagnosed?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), only about 10 to 15 percent of people who suffer from sudden hearing loss can identify the cause of their condition. It’s important to make an appointment with your doctor any time you experience hearing loss in one or both ears.

During your visit, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history, and conduct a physical examination of your ear, nose, and throat.

Your doctor may also order a hearing test. During this test, your doctor or a specialist (audiologist) will measure how you respond to a range of sounds and tones at various volume levels. These tests can help your doctor determine which part of the ear is affected, which can provide clues as to the underlying cause of the hearing loss.

How Is Hearing Loss in One Ear Treated?

Treatment options for your hearing loss will depend on the cause of your condition. In some cases, hearing loss will be irreversible. In this case, your doctor may recommend a hearing aid to help improve your hearing. They will work with you to find the best fit for your lifestyle.

Other treatment options may include:

  • surgery to repair the ear or remove a tumor
  • antibiotics to treat infection
  • steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling

Hearing loss caused by wax buildup can be treated by gently removing the earwax. This can be done at home or by your doctor. However, always seek professional help if you have a foreign object in your ear that is affecting your hearing. Never use sharp objects such as tweezers to remove a foreign body, in order to prevent further injury.

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