Hearing Loss in One Ear – Possible Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Because you’re so hip, you were in the front row for the whole rock concert last night. It isn’t exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s enjoyable, and the next day, you wake up with two ringing ears. (That’s not as fun.)

But what if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? The rock concert is probably not to blame in that situation. Something else may be at work. And when you develop hearing loss in one ear only… you may feel a little worried!

Also, your general hearing might not be working right. Your brain is used to sorting out signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from one ear only.

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

Your ears basically work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Your two outward facing ears help you hear more accurately, much like how your two front facing eyes help with depth perception. So when one of your ears quits working correctly, havoc can happen. Here are some of the most prevalent:

  • You can have difficulty identifying the direction of sounds: Someone yells your name, but you have no idea where they are! It’s exceptionally difficult to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear functioning.
  • It’s hard to hear in noisy locations: With only one working ear, loud places like restaurants or event venues can quickly become overwhelming. That’s because all that sound seems to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You can’t tell how loud anything is: You need both ears to triangulate direction, but you also need both to determine volume. Think about it like this: If you can’t determine where a sound is coming from, it’s difficult to detect whether that sound is quiet or just distant.
  • Your brain becomes tired: Your brain will become more fatigued faster if you can only hear from one ear. That’s because it’s failing to get the whole sound range from just one ear so it’s working extra hard to make up for it. And when hearing loss abruptly happens in one ear, that’s especially true. Normal everyday tasks, as a result, will become more taxing.

So what causes hearing loss in one ear?

Hearing specialists call muffled hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” While the more common kind of hearing loss (in both ears) is typically the result of noise-related damage, single-sided hearing loss is not. This means that it’s time to consider other possible causes.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be blocked by excessive earwax packed in your ear canal. It’s like using an earplug. If this is the situation, don’t grab a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can push the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most common reactions to infection. It’s just what your body does! Swelling in reaction to an infection isn’t always localized so hearing loss in one ear can result from any infection that would cause inflammation.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When somebody is dealing with the chronic condition called Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease progresses asymmetrically: one ear may be impacted before the other. Menier’s disease often comes with single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name might sound rather intimidating, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. You still need to take this condition seriously, even though it isn’t cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Ruptured eardrum: Normally, a ruptured eardrum is difficult to miss. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (among other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. When the thin membrane dividing your ear canal and your middle ear has a hole in it, this kind of injury happens. Normally, tinnitus and hearing loss as well as a great deal of pain are the outcomes.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can cause swelling. And it will impossible to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: In really rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss may actually be some irregular bone growth getting in the way. And when it grows in a certain way, this bone can actually hinder your hearing.

So… What can I do about my single-sided hearing loss?

Depending on what’s causing your single-sided hearing loss, treatment options will differ. Surgery might be the best choice for certain obstructions such as tissue or bone growth. Some issues, like a ruptured eardrum, will usually heal on their own. And still others, like an earwax based blockage, can be removed by simple instruments.

Your single-sided hearing loss, in some cases, might be permanent. We will help, in these cases, by prescribing one of two potential hearing aid options:

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: To help you compensate for being able to hear from one ear only, these hearing aids use your bones to conduct the sound waves to your brain, bypassing most of the ear altogether.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This kind of specially designed hearing aid is primarily made to treat single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is received at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s detected by your brain. It’s very complicated, very cool, and very effective.

Your hearing specialist is the beginning

If you can’t hear out of both of your ears, there’s likely a reason. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be ignoring. Getting to the bottom of it is essential for hearing and your overall health. So start hearing out of both ears again by making 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.