When One Good Ear Isn’t Enough
Millions of Americans have single-sided hearing loss, and another 60,000 acquire the condition each year. These individuals experience either total hearing loss or diminished hearing in one ear, while maintaining normal hearing in the other. Because they still have one “good” ear, many people with single-sided hearing loss simply ignore the issue. However, putting off treatment can lead to numerous difficulties each day.
Why is that? Well, like most animals, humans have two ears for a reason. Rather than receiving separate inputs of sound from each ear, both ears collect sound and send it to the brain, which processes the sound binaurally. Binaural hearing allows you to identify the direction from which sound is coming and hear it clearly. With single-sided hearing loss, you lose that ability.
Living with single-sided hearing loss
Relying on only one ear to hear means you may struggle to localize sounds and pinpoint the source of speech, especially in environments with loud background noise. Single-sided hearing loss also makes it challenging to understand higher-frequency sounds. While low-frequency sounds can bend around your head and still be heard when your good ear is facing away from the source, high-frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths, which get blocked by your head and can’t travel to the good ear. Since many consonant sounds fall in the high-frequency range, it can be challenging to comprehend speech and follow a conversation directed toward your “bad” side.
The longer you go without addressing single-sided hearing loss, the more it can affect your quality of life. For instance, you may have to ask people to speak toward your good side, reposition yourself, or constantly turn your head just to follow conversations, which can strain your neck and back. Listening fatigue is another potential issue due to the effort required to keep up with conversations while filling in the gaps from missing pieces of acoustic information. There is also the risk of depression. If struggling to understand others takes too much effort or if you are tired of having to contort your body to hear them, you might choose to avoid social situations altogether, which can make you feel isolated and lonely—known contributing factors to depression.
While hearing aids can help overcome the challenges of single-sided hearing loss, many people refuse to use them. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around using hearing aids (i.e., they’ll make you seem old or out of touch). New technology can erase the stigma, offering a unique solution to single-sided hearing loss that is almost invisible so no one will know you’re wearing hearing devices.
To understand how this new technology transforms the way people address single-sided hearing loss, it’s important to understand previous methods. The most common was through contralateral routing of signals (CROS) hearing aid technology. This involves wearing a transmitter device, which looks like a normal hearing aid, on the ear with unaidable hearing loss, paired with a hearing aid on the better ear. Through this approach, the sound coming into your bad ear is picked up by the transmitter, processed, and transmitted to the hearing aid on your good ear. If you have a degree of hearing loss in your hearing ear, the paired hearing aids can also amplify sounds coming from both sides in the better ear (known as BiCROS).
Traditionally, such systems relied on bulky wires to connect the hearing aid and transmitter device. While technology has advanced to allow CROS hearing aids to connect to each other wirelessly, they have only been available in behind-the-ear devices, which don’t provide the high level of discretion many wearers desire.
A new approach to single-sided hearing loss
The newest technology to treat single-sided hearing loss builds upon previous solutions, while adding a new dimension of discretion. The result is a world’s first—CROS technology in a tiny hearing aid that sits in your ear canal almost invisibly. This solution provides people with single-sided hearing loss the right combination to meet their needs: advanced wireless technology to let them pick up sound from their unaidable side, and the confidence of having nearly invisible hearing aids so they don’t feel self-conscious.
It’s not just the small size that makes these hearing aids unnoticeable. Like many modern hearing aids, the settings can be changed discreetly via a smartphone app. Rather than having to remove your hearing aids in public or push buttons to adjust settings, you can easily make any changes from your smartphone, without anyone knowing what you’re really doing.
Hear from both sides again
With single-sided hearing loss, you lose the crucial ability to pick up sounds coming toward both sides of your head. However, advanced CROS hearing aid technology solves this issue by enabling you to hear speech and localize sound from any direction. Such devices also solve another challenge for people with single-sided hearing loss: if you don’t want others to know you wear hearing aids, new nearly invisible devices can help you hear while providing the high level of discretion you prefer.
Lisa A. Perhacs, AuD, is a Clinical Education Specialist for Sivantos, Inc. She is responsible for training customers and sales staff on the company’s current technology and products. She conducts training sessions in customers’ offices, remotely, via webinars, and at regional and national events. Dr. Perhacs has more than 13 years of manufacturing experience including two years as the Training and Audiology Manager for Siemens Export Sales, based in Erlangen, Germany. Her six years of clinical experience includes private practice, a large medical setting, and Clinic Coordinator and Preceptor at Montclair State University. Dr. Perhacs earned her undergraduate degree from Seton Hall University, graduate degree from The College of New Jersey, and doctorate from Pennsylvania College of Optometry (now Salus University).