Hearing Loss in One Ear – Likely Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Because you’re so cool, you rocked out in the front row for the whole rock concert last night. It isn’t exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s fun, and the next morning, you wake up with two ringing ears. (That’s not as fun.)

But what happens if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? The rock concert is probably not to blame in that case. Something else may be at work. And you might be a bit alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

Also, your general hearing may not be working right. Normally, your brain is sorting out information from both ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.

Why hearing loss in one ear results in issues

Your ears basically work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps you with depth perception and visual sharpness, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So when one of your ears quits working properly, havoc can result. Here are a few of the most prevalent:

  • Distinguishing the direction of sound can become a great challenge: You hear someone attempting to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t find where they are. It’s exceedingly hard to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear functioning.
  • It’s challenging to hear in loud places: With only one working ear, loud spaces like restaurants or event venues can quickly become overwhelming. That’s because all that sound seems to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You can’t tell how loud anything is: Just like you need both ears to triangulate location, you sort of need both ears to determine how loud something is. Think about it like this: You won’t be sure if a sound is distant or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
  • Your brain becomes tired: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can get overly tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s desperately trying to make up for the lack of hearing from one of your ears. And when hearing loss abruptly occurs in one ear, that’s especially true. Normal daily activities, as a result, will become more taxing.

So how does hearing loss in one ear happen?

Hearing specialists call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” While the more typical kind of hearing loss (in both ears) is normally caused by noise-related damage, single-sided hearing loss isn’t. So, other possible factors should be assessed.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Irregular Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in extremely rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the outcome of abnormal bone growth. This bone can, when it grows in a certain way, impede your ability to hear.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When someone is coping with the chronic condition called Menier’s disease, they frequently experience vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing in one ear before the other. Hearing loss in one ear along with ringing is another typical symptom of Meniere’s Disease.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most prevailing reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. Swelling in response to an infection isn’t always localized so hearing loss in one ear can result from any infection that would trigger inflammation.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will typically be really evident. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (amongst other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. When the thin membrane separating your ear canal and your middle ear has a hole in it, this kind of injury occurs. The result can be really painful, and usually leads to tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can trigger swelling. And it will extremely difficult to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear and might sound a bit more intimidating than it usually is. You still need to take this condition seriously, even though it’s not cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be obstructed by too much earwax packed in your ear canal. It has a similar effect to using earplugs. If you’re experiencing earwax blocking your ear, never try to clean it out with a cotton swab. A cotton swab can just cause a bigger and more entrenched problem.

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

Depending on what’s causing your single-sided hearing loss, treatments will vary. Surgery may be the best solution for certain obstructions like tissue or bone growth. Some issues, like a ruptured eardrum, will usually heal on their own. And still others, including an earwax based obstruction, can be cleared away by simple instruments.

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

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass much of the ear by making use of your bones to transfer sound to the brain.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This kind of uniquely designed hearing aid is specifically made to address single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is received 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 reliable.

Your hearing specialist is where it all starts

If you can’t hear out of both of your ears, there’s likely a reason. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be neglecting. Getting to the bottom of it is important for hearing and your overall 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.