What is Unilateral Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss comes in all different shapes and sizes. It can be mild or severe, it can affect some tones and frequencies but not others, it can happen in the oldest of ears and the youngest, and it can be bilateral or unilateral.
Every hearing loss comes with its own unique concerns and considerations, and every hearing loss requires treatment – even unilateral hearing loss (UHL).
The definition of unilateral hearing loss
Put simply, unilateral hearing loss is when hearing is considered normal in one ear, but not in the other. As with any other hearing loss, it can be categorized as mild, moderate, severe or profound and can occur at any age.
It is estimated that 1 out of every 1,000 children is born with UHL, and almost 3% of school-age children have UHL. It can be caused by genetics, abnormalities in the ear, illnesses and infections, loud noise exposure or even a head injury.
This type of hearing loss was once considered insignificant in children. It was believed to be a hearing loss that did not affect communication or development, but thanks to a growing body of research, experts now see just how big an impact it can have.
Children with unilateral hearing loss can experience:

  • Academic difficulties
  • Speech-language delays
  • Difficulty with social interaction
  • Listening problems (often unable to see who is speaking)

As with any hearing loss, early identification and treatment of UHL are essential to a child’s success.
How to treat unilateral hearing loss
The first step to treating UHL is identifying it. In newborns, unilateral hearing loss may be diagnosed in early screenings. In older children, families should be on the lookout for telltale signs of this hearing loss including:

  • Difficulty understanding speech in loud environments or from another room. Normal hearing in both ears can help to amplify sound.
  • Difficulty determining where sounds are coming from. As two eyes help us with depth perception, two normal hearing ears help us with “localization” or pinpointing more precisely the source of a sound.
  • Frustration over not being able to hear or inattention when they are being spoken to.
  • Extreme fatigue as the day goes on.

In these cases, it’s important to schedule a hearing evaluation to determine if a hearing loss is present, if there are any underlying issues, such as an infection, that should be addressed, and go over treatment options. Treatment for unilateral hearing loss may include:

  • Speech therapy
  • A hearing aid (depending on the degree of hearing loss)
  • Remote microphones
  • In some cases, cochlear implants

Any type and degree of hearing loss can have a serious impact, especially on children developing language and communication skills. If you believe your child is showing symptoms of hearing loss, don’t wait. Schedule a hearing evaluation today.


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