Likely 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 all night in the front row. It’s fun, although it’s not good for your ears which will be ringing when you wake up the next morning. (That’s not so fun.)

But what happens 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 culprit. Something else must be happening. And when you develop hearing loss in one ear only… you may feel a little concerned!

Also, your overall hearing may not be working properly. Your brain is used to processing signals from two ears. So only getting information from a single ear can be disorienting.

Hearing loss in one ear creates issues, here’s why

Your ears basically work together (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two front facing eyes helps you with depth perception and visual clarity, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more accurately. So when one of your ears stops working properly, havoc can result. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • Distinguishing the direction of sound can become a great challenge: Someone yells your name, but you have no clue where they are! When your hearing goes out in one ear, it’s really very difficult for your brain to triangulate the origin of sounds.
  • When you’re in a loud setting it becomes extremely difficult to hear: Noisy places such as event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with only one ear working. That’s because all that sound appears to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You have difficulty detecting volume: You need both ears to triangulate location, but you also need both to figure out volume. Think about it this way: You won’t be sure if a sound is far away or simply quiet if you don’t know where the sound was originating from.
  • Your brain becomes tired: When you lose hearing in one ear, your brain can get extra tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s failing to get the whole sound spectrum from only one ear so it’s working extra hard to compensate. This is especially true when hearing loss in one ear happens suddenly. This can make all kinds of activities during your day-to-day life more taxing.

So how does hearing loss in one ear happen?

Hearing professionals call muffled 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 the result of noise related damage. This means that it’s time to consider other possible factors.

Some of the most prevalent causes include the following:

  • Ear infections: Ear infections can cause swelling. And it will impossible to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.
  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be obstructed by too much earwax packed in your ear canal. It’s like wearing an earplug. If you have earwax blocking your ear, never try to clean it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can just create a bigger and more entrenched issue.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a degenerative hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease progresses asymmetrically: one ear might be affected before the other. Menier’s disease frequently comes with single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear and may sound a little more intimidating than it normally is. You should still take this condition seriously, even though it isn’t cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Irregular Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in very rare cases, that hearing loss on one side can be the outcome of abnormal bone growth. This bone can, when it grows in a particular way, interfere with your ability to hear.
  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most common responses to infection. It’s just how your body responds. This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that causes swelling can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will typically be very evident. It can be due to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (among other things). When the thin membrane dividing your ear canal and your middle ear has a hole in it, this kind of injury happens. The result can be rather painful, and usually triggers tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.

So how should I address hearing loss in one ear?

Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will vary based upon the root cause. Surgery might be the best solution for certain obstructions like tissue or bone growth. A ruptured eardrum or similar issues will usually heal naturally. Other problems such as too much earwax can be easily removed.

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

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

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This kind of uniquely manufactured hearing aid is specifically made to address single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids can detect sounds from your impacted ear and transfer them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very effective not to mention complex and very cool.

Your hearing specialist is the beginning

If you aren’t hearing out of both of your ears, there’s likely a reason. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be ignoring. It’s important, both for your well-being and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. So start 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.