When someone experiences hearing loss in one ear and hearing in the standard range in the other, this is called unilateral hearing loss. Generally speaking, If unilateral hearing loss is severe-to-profound, it can also be known as single-sided deafness.
The degree of unilateral hearing loss can range from mild to profound. Causes can include genetic mutations, viral infections, trauma or when a someone is born with specific ear abnormalities. In many cases, the reason for unilateral hearing loss unknown.
What's the impact?
Left untreated, unilateral or single-sided deafness has the potential to impact speech and language, social and emotional wellbeing and educational progress in children and young adults.
Someone may have difficulty with:
Sound localisation: the ability to find where a sound is coming from. Sound will appear louder when closer to the better hearing ear. Sounds coming from a variety of directions may also be hard to locate – for example, when a child is playing in a playground or listening to peers in a classroom.
Hearing speech in background noise: similarly, someone with unilateral or single-sided deafness will be better able to detect speech if it’s directed to their better-hearing ear. Separating speech from background noise such as listening in a classroom or a noisy restaurant or café can be difficult.
Hearing from a distance.
What can be done?
There are many hearing device options available depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss. These can include:
Hearing technology: Hearing aids for the poorer-hearing ear may help to overcome the difficulties listed above. Potential hearing aid options include traditional behind-the-ear; Contralateral Routing of Signal (CROS); Bilateral Microphones with Contralateral Routing of Signal (BiCROS); and bone conduction models, as well as fully implantable technologies such as a cochlear implant. Surgical correction is also explored in some cases.
Use of a Wireless Communication Device (WCD) system in the better hearing ear: working in tandem with hearing technology, WCD systems improve understanding of speech in noisy environments by transmitting the speech signal directly to the better hearing ear, via a remote microphone used by whoever is speaking.
Early Intervention: for children, enrolling in an early intervention program such as the one offered by Hear and Say enables ongoing support from a team of specialists, including audiologists, speech pathologists and ENT surgeons. These professionals work together to support families from birth through to school and beyond, to ensure the child reaches their full potential.
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