Hearing Loss in One Ear – Likely Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s imagine you go to a rock show. You’re awesome, so you spend all night in the front row. It’s fun, although it isn’t good for your ears which will be ringing when you wake up the next morning. (That’s not as enjoyable.)

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

Moreover, your overall hearing may not be working properly. Your brain is used to processing signals from two ears. So only receiving information from a single ear can be disorienting.

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

Your ears basically work together (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps you with depth perception and visual acuity, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more accurately. So when one of your ears stops working properly, havoc can happen. Among the most prominent effects are the following:

  • Pinpointing the direction of sound can become a great challenge: Someone yells your name, but you have no idea where they are! It’s exceedingly difficult to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear functioning.
  • When you’re in a noisy setting it becomes very hard to hear: Noisy places like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with only one ear working. That’s because all that sound appears to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You can’t tell how loud anything is: In the same way as you need both ears to triangulate direction, you kind of need both ears to determine how loud something is. 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 simply quiet or just away.
  • Your brain gets tired: When you lose hearing in one of your ears, your brain can get extra tired, extra fast. That’s because it’s failing to get the whole sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working extra hard to compensate. This is particularly true when hearing loss in one ear happens suddenly. basic daily tasks, as a result, will become more taxing.

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

Hearing professionals call muffled hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” Single sided hearing loss, in contrast to common “both ear hearing loss”, usually isn’t the result of noise related damage. So, other possible factors need to be considered.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Abnormal Bone Growth: In really rare cases, the cause of your hearing loss might actually be some irregular bone growth getting in the way. This bone can, when it grows in a certain way, impede your ability to hear.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum will usually be very evident. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (among other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. When the thin membrane separating your ear canal and your middle ear gets a hole in it, this kind of injury occurs. The outcome can be rather painful, and typically causes tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Other infections: One of your body’s most prevailing reactions to an infection is to swell up. It’s just how your body responds. This response isn’t always localized, so any infection that produces swelling can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s Disease is a degenerative hearing condition that can cause vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease advances asymmetrically: one ear may be impacted before the other. Menier’s disease often is accompanied by single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Ear infections: Infections of the ear can trigger swelling. And it will impossible to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.
  • Earwax: Yup, sometimes your earwax can become so packed in there that it blocks your hearing. It has a similar effect to using earplugs. If you’re experiencing earwax plugging your ear, never try to clean it out with a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can push the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name may sound kind of frightening, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a significant (and potentially life-threatening) condition that you should talk to your provider about.

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

Depending on what’s generating your single-sided hearing loss, treatments will differ. In the case of certain obstructions (like bone or tissue growths), surgery may be the appropriate solution. Some issues, like a ruptured eardrum, will usually heal on their own. And still others, including an earwax based obstruction, can be removed by simple instruments.

In some circumstances, however, your single-sided hearing loss could 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 most of the ear by using your bones to convey sound to the brain.

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This type of specially manufactured hearing aid is specifically made to manage single-sided hearing loss. These hearing aids can detect sounds from your impacted ear and transfer them to your brain via your good ear. It’s very complicated, very cool, and very effective.

It all begins with your hearing specialist

There’s probably a good reason why you’re only hearing out of one ear. It’s not something that should be disregarded. Getting to the bottom of it is important for hearing and your overall health. So schedule an appointment with us today, so you can begin hearing out of both ears again!



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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