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Solutions for single-sided hearing loss

What do you do when you have hearing loss in one ear and good hearing in the other? Do you use a combination of positioning strategies and lipreading or, do you consider getting a hearing aid – or two?

I recently wrote a post about the jargon and solutions relating to single-sided hearing or, to give it its more complex title, ‘profound unilateral hearing loss’: the state of having no hearing in one ear but some degree of hearing in the other. That sparked questions about ‘unilateral hearing loss’, where someone has mild to severe hearing loss in one ear and normal hearing in the other.

So, what do you do if you have single-sided hearing loss?

Solutions for single-sided hearing loss

Some people with hearing loss in one ear and good hearing in the other, may choose to manage without the use of a hearing aid. They may learn to lipread, or they might employ coping strategies such as ensuring that others’ faces are not in shadow whilst they are speaking to you, is also a good tip. (If someone sits with their back to the window on a bright day, their face will be in shadow and it will be more difficult to lipread them.)

Another useful strategy is to arrive early to meetings and family gatherings in order to get your preferred seat – the one which puts the majority of people on your ‘good’ side so you’ll increase the chances of hearing what’s said.

But, whilst all these techniques help to a degree, there will be times when they just aren’t enough. For example, if you hear your passenger clearly whilst driving, you’re likely not to be able to hear the driver when you’re the passenger or vice versa (depending upon which is your ‘good’ ear).

If you are frequently in situations where you struggle to hear what’s being said, that’s when exploring the option of amplification may start to seem like a good idea.

Personal amplifying apps

As a first step, some people may choose to experiment with a range of personal amplifying apps for their mobile phone. These involve utilising the phone’s microphone and relaying amplified sound to the user via headphones. Some apps may have settings for tone, or to cut out background noise. Ear Booster incorporates an equalizer and a noise-suppressor. In addition to its ‘near’ and ‘far’ options, HearYouNow also allows the user to replay the last 20 seconds of conversation if they have missed something. (However, in playing it back, I worry that the user is likely to then miss the next 20 seconds of conversation…)

Hearing tests

If you’ve seen a benefit in using an amplifying app, you may realise that, while it helps, it’s not always practical to use it in all situations and you may start thinking that a discreet hearing aid would be better.

Before booking a hearing test with an audiologist, many people choose to test their hearing remotely. While there’s no replacement for professional hearing tests and a consultation with a hearing care expert, the Phonak online hearing screening can provide some quick and useful feedback about your hearing. However, in order to find out how a hearing aid might help you, you will need to see a hearing care professional.

Hearing Aids

Like everything from pizza toppings to salad dressings, in the world of hearing aids, there is so much choice. You’ll be expected to make decisions on things you have never before considered so, to take away the fear-factor, here’s a simple guide to different types of hearing aids and fittings.

1. In-the-canal – extended wear

Once fitted deep into the ear canal by a professional, the Lyric™ cannot be seen. It remains in the ear for several months at a time and is a perfectly discreet solution.

2. In-the-canal – daily wear

Each in-the-canal aid is custom made to sit inside the wearer’s ear canal. Virto™ B

3. In-the-ear

Each in-the-ear aid is custom-made to fit an individual ear. They come in different sizes. Some are tiny, others, for people who need more amplification, are a little larger to take a more powerful battery. Volume control, program button, and Telecoil are optional.  Virto™ B

4. Behind-the-ear (BTE)

The hearing aid sits behind the ear. Like the microphones, the receiver is built into the hearing aid. Behind the ear devices are available in a wide range of colours from muted tones to match hair coloring to bright red, and they come with a choice of fittings:

  • BTE with earmould – The custom-made earmould fits into the ear and is connected to the hearing aid via a tube. An example is the Bolero™ B.
  • BTE with open fit – A flexible dome fits into the ear, connected by a slim wire.

5. Receiver-in-the-ear (RIC)

Confusingly, unlike the name implies, the hearing aid still looks like a behind-the-ear aid and it does indeed sit behind the ear. However, the devices tend to be smaller than BTEs (because they don’t house the receiver). The receiver fits into the ear canal via a thin wire and it is protected by a flexible dome. (This is for people who need more amplification than is possible with an open fitting.) An example of this is the Audéo™ B.

Why have I been told I need two hearing aids?

Single-sided hearing loss solutions

When you see your audiologist, despite only having hearing loss in one ear, they may advise that you would benefit from having two hearing aids. They are not saying this because they are after your money! Generally speaking, people benefit from having a hearing aid in each ear because:

  • It helps you locate the source of a sound more readily
  • It helps with understanding speech in background noise
  • Having your hearing balanced with hearing aids will mean less ‘listening-related fatigue’.

Next steps

Once you have had your hearing test with a hearing care professional, and have had the chance to see and handle some model hearing aids, you should be in a better position to know which kind of device is best for you. We wish you the best of luck in finding your ideal solution.

Author Details
Angela is the Director of Global Audiology at Phonak HQ in Switzerland. She has worked in the field of audiology for over 18 years, and is passionate and committed to ensuring every child and their family, have the best possible solutions, services, and support available to help them live life to the fullest.