Likely Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear

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 fun, and the next day, you wake up with both ears ringing. (That’s not as fun.)

But what if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? Well, if that’s the situation, the rock concert may not be the cause. Something else must be going on. And you might be a bit worried when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

Also, your general hearing may not be working properly. Normally, your brain is sorting out information from both ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from only one ear.

Why hearing loss in one ear results in issues

Your ears basically work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual sharpness, having two side facing ears helps you hear more accurately. So when one of your ears quits working properly, havoc can happen. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • You can have difficulty identifying the direction of sounds: Someone calls your name, but you have no clue where they are! When your hearing goes out in one ear, it’s really very difficult for your brain to triangulate the origin of sounds.
  • When you’re in a loud setting it becomes very hard to hear: Loud settings like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with just one ear working. That’s because all that sound appears to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You have difficulty detecting volume: Just like you need both ears to triangulate direction, you sort of need both ears to determine how loud something is. Think about it this way: If you can’t determine where a sound is coming from, it’s impossible to detect whether that sound is quiet or just away.
  • You tire your brain out: Your brain will become more fatigued faster if you can only hear out of one ear. That’s because it’s failing to get the complete sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working extra hard to compensate. And when hearing loss abruptly occurs in one ear, that’s especially true. This can make a lot of activities throughout your daily life more taxing.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss in one ear?

Hearing experts call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” Single sided hearing loss, in contrast to typical “both ear hearing loss”, usually isn’t caused by noise related damage. This means that it’s time to consider other possible factors.

Here are a few of the most common causes:

  • Ruptured eardrum: Normally, a ruptured eardrum is difficult to miss. It can be related to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (among other things). And it happens when there’s a hole between the thin membrane that separates your ear canal and middle ear. The outcome can be quite painful, and usually triggers tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When somebody is dealing with the degenerative condition known as Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing on one side before the other. Menier’s disease frequently is accompanied by single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Irregular Bone Growth: It’s possible, in very rare cases, that hearing loss on one side can be the outcome of abnormal bone growth. This bone can, when it grows in a specific way, hinder your ability to hear.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can trigger swelling. And this swelling can obstruct your ear canal, making it extremely hard for you to hear.
  • Earwax: Yup, occasionally your earwax can become so packed in there that it blocks your hearing. It has a similar effect to wearing earplugs. If you have earwax clogging your ear, never try to clear it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can push the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear and might sound a little more intimidating than it normally is. You should still take this condition seriously, even though it isn’t cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most prevailing responses to infection. It’s just what your body does! This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that triggers inflammation can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.

So how should I deal with hearing loss in one ear?

Treatment options for single-sided hearing loss will differ based upon the underlying cause. In the case of certain obstructions (such as bone or tissue growths), surgery might be the ideal solution. A ruptured eardrum or similar problems will usually heal on their own. And still others, including an earwax based blockage, can be cleared away by simple instruments.

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

  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass much of the ear by making use of your bones to transmit sound to the brain.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This type of specially created hearing aid is primarily made to treat single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids are able to identify sounds from your impacted ear and transfer them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very effective not to mention complicated and very cool.

Your hearing specialist is the beginning

There’s most likely a good reason why you can only hear out of one ear. In other words, this is not a symptom you should be ignoring. It’s important, both for your well-being and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. 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.

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