What is Single-Sided Deafness?

1 in 6 UK adults suffers from hearing loss and 2,000,000 of these people are registered hearing aid users. These statistics imply that the hearing health of UK citizens is a real problem that needs addressing. Single-sided deafness, in particular, affects 9,000 adults and children every year. In this post, we will focus on this major type of hearing loss and will discuss the causes, diagnosis, treatment, risk factors, complications, and preventative measures of single-sided deafness.

What is single-sided deafness?

Single-sided deafness, also known as unilateral hearing loss, is a type of hearing loss that occurs in one ear. The condition can be temporary or permanent and the severity ranges from mild to severe.

Is single-sided deafness a disability?

Whether a hearing impairment is a disability depends on if it negatively affects your life and well-being. Under the Equality Act 2010, hearing loss can be considered a disability and individuals with single-sided deafness can register for a Disabled Persons Railcard.


Babies are sometimes born with hearing loss in one ear. The deafness occurs in utero and can be caused by infections like bacterial meningitis, malformations of the ear canal, or premature birth.

Many factors can cause the development of unilateral hearing loss in children and adults, including:

– Trauma such as an injury to the head
– An acoustic neuroma
– A bacterial or viral infection

How does single-sided deafness affect hearing?

We perform best with a pair of fully-functioning ears, as the brain requires two working ears to pinpoint the location of a sound and to improve quality and range. Unilateral hearing loss results in impaired binaural hearing and this decreases our ability to hear sounds well. People with single-sided deafness can endure any of the following:

– Not knowing where a sound is coming from; the brain uses both ears to distinguish the direction of sound.
– Worsened hearing in noisy environments: selective listening and filtration of useless noises occur ineffectively with just one active ear.
– An altered perception of volume: you can have a difficult time accurately estimating how loud a noise is because the brain uses nerves in both ears to distinguish how loud or quiet a noise is.
– Difficulty multitasking: single-sided deafness can cause a cognitive overload in the brain and this results in less concentration.
– A ‘head shadow’ effect: this occurs when sounds do not bend around the side of a working ear, meaning the person never hears the sound.


Different methods are used to diagnose patients with single-sided deafness:

  • Physical examination

A doctor will inspect the ear and attempt to rule out other explanations for the hearing loss such as a build-up of earwax or inflammation from an infection. The ear’s structure will also be examined for any indications of damage.

  • General screening tests

The ‘whisper test’ may be carried out by a hearing specialist. You will be asked to cover one ear at a time and will be tested on how well you pick up words and other sounds played at varying volumes.

  • Audiometer tests

If you are suspected of single-sided deafness, you will perform a hearing test so that the audiologist can receive insight into how well you respond to different sounds. This test is more thorough than the general screening test – during the test, you wear headphones and listen to distinct sounds with diverse tones.


Current treatment for unilateral hearing loss is very effective and patients can opt for surgical or non-surgical medical interventions to treat their condition.

Typically, hearing loss sufferers choose to use a hearing aid as it’s usually all that’s needed to magnify the sounds they cannot hear. However, in more moderate to severe hearing loss cases, the sufferer may undergo a surgical procedure, where a bone-anchored auditory implant is placed into their inner ear. This device works by bone-conducting sound vibrations through the ear canal and into the brain, therefore enabling the patient to hear sounds normally from the non-functioning ear.

Risk factors

  • Age

8 million people who suffer from single-sided hearing loss are aged 60 and over, this is because ageing can lead to degeneration of the inner ear structure

  • Loud noise

Regular exposure to loud noise can damage the cells of the inner ear over time. An example of this could be working on a construction site with loud machinery or playing your music at full blast whilst wearing headphones. A one-time exposure to an extremely loud noise could result in sudden hearing loss, for example, you could be at a concert and stood right next to the speakers.

  • Genetics

Our genetic makeup can make us more susceptible to single-sided hearing loss. If you have a family history of hearing loss, you are at risk of inheriting poor hearing health and possibly single-sided deafness.

  • Certain medications

Antibiotic drugs including gentamicin and sildenafil have the potential to injure the inner ear, causing tinnitus and single-sided deafness. Effects are normally temporary and rarely permanent.

  • Underlying medical conditions

Illnesses that result in high fever such as meningitis can damage the ear’s cochlea and in due course lead to single-sided deafness.

  • Complications

Single-sided deafness can negatively affect your quality of life. This condition can cause mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as cognitive decline. Suffers also tend to feel isolated at times because they cannot always hear the conversations going on around them. However, it is not all bad news since studies have shown that treating hearing loss results in a positive effect on memory recall.


There are ways to keep your hearing healthy and to prevent single-sided deafness, such as:

– Avoiding loud noises
– Wearing protective gear like earplugs if your exposure to loud noise is required due to your occupation or another factor
– Booking regular hearing tests if you are high-risk

If you are concerned that you maybe suffering from single sided deafness or have any other worrying hearing concerns then please feel to get in contact with one of our specialists.