Hearing loss doesn’t always happen equally in both ears. Hearing loss in one ear, called unilateral hearing loss, occurs when one ear has hearing loss, but the other ear can hear normally. Both children and adults can experience unilateral hearing loss. Sometimes it’s temporary and can be treated to restore normal hearing. Other times, the loss can be permanent.
While one ear can hear normally with unilateral hearing loss, our bodies were designed to be binaural, or to hear with both ears. Our ears constantly communicate with one another as they absorb sounds from the environment. People with this condition may find it difficult to:
This type of hearing loss can range from mild to profound; if the loss is severe enough, it may mean the person is deaf in one ear. In these cases, it is sometimes called single-sided deafness (SSD).
I recently started to experience muffled hearing in one ear. What’s going on with my blocked ear?
Those that experience muffled ear typically describe a “full” or “plugged up” feeling. When your ear feels clogged and muffled, it can often feel like there is cotton or some other object clogging the ear. Muffled hearing can present itself in one or both ears; its onset is often sudden, but it can also occur gradually over time. Muffled hearing is typically a conductive hearing loss, which happens when sound waves cannot pass through to the inner ear from the middle and outer ear.
Many possible causes exist for these conditions, especially if the onset is sudden.
A common culprit for muffled hearing is excessive ear wax (cerumen). Ear wax can sometimes build up in the ear canal and cause a blockage. This ear wax can dry up and harden over time, increasing the risk of impaction. Impacted ear wax can affect your ability to hear. Ear wax buildup and blockage often happens when people use items like cotton swabs or bobby pins to try to clean their ears. This only pushes the ear wax farther into the ears and can also cause blockage or injury to the ear.
Foreign objects can also enter and get stuck in the ear, causing hearing loss. Children are more at risk for this, but even adults can get objects stuck in the ear. Sometimes a small bug can fly into the ear while camping, running or working outdoors. A wad of cotton from a cotton swab can also get stuck in the ear. Remember the old adage “Never put anything in your ear that is smaller than your elbow!”.
A sudden, intense injury to the head or brain can sometimes result in hearing loss in one ear (or both). Car accidents are a common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI’s effects can cascade across the body, including the ears and central auditory system. The blunt force can damage the tympanic membrane, middle ear and nerve cells in the cochlea—resulting in hearing loss, and in some cases, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness or loss of balance.
If you start to experience muffled hearing or hearing loss in one ear, you should contact a physician, preferably a physician specializing in diseases of the ear. He or she can examine the issue and refer you to an audiologist to properly evaluate and diagnose the hearing problem.
Depending on the cause, treatment options when you can't hear out of one ear may include:
I am deaf in one ear or have permanent loss of hearing in one ear. Can a hearing aid help?
Single-sided hearing loss can sometimes be treated with differing types of amplification. If it’s determined that the hearing loss can be treated with a hearing aid, then a hearing aid can be used to provide binaural hearing.
Sometimes the hearing loss in the affected ear cannot be helped with a hearing aid. In these cases, Amplifon offers a CROS/BiCROS solution (CROS means Contralateral Routing of Signal.)
These hearing aids connect wirelessly through the CROS transmitter. When sounds and speech are detected by the ear with untreatable hearing loss, they can be transmitted wirelessly to the better ear to be processed. This wireless transmission allows you to hear better in a variety of situations, such as talking on the phone, conversing in a group setting, or walking side by side with someone.
Here are some tips for protecting your hearing health:
Loud noises can damage the delicate nerve cells in the inner ear, causing temporary or permanent hearing loss. Protect your ears from loud noises by turning down the volume or wearing protective ear plugs or earmuffs in noisy situations. Common places to protect your ears include: