Hearing Loss in One Ear – Potential Causes

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Because you’re so cool, you rocked out in the front row for the entire rock concert last night. It isn’t exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s enjoyable, and the next day, you wake up with both ears ringing. (That part’s less enjoyable.)

But what happens if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? Well, if that’s the situation, the rock concert might not be the culprit. Something else could be at work. And you might be a bit alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

Moreover, your overall hearing may not be working properly. Your brain is used to sorting out signals from two ears. So it can be disorienting to get signals from only one ear.

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

Your ears basically work in concert (no pun intended) with each other. Just like having two front facing eyes helps your depth perception and visual acuity, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more effectively. So the loss of hearing in one ear can wreak havoc. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • You can have difficulty distinguishing the direction of sounds: You hear somebody attempting to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t locate where they are. When your hearing disappears in one ear, it’s really challenging for your brain to triangulate the source of sounds.
  • It’s hard to hear in loud locations: Noisy places such as event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with just one ear working. That’s because your ears can’t figure out where any of that sound is originating from.
  • 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 this way: If you can’t figure out where a sound is coming from, it’s impossible to know whether that sound is quiet or just distant.
  • Your brain becomes exhausted: Your brain will become more fatigued faster if you can only hear from one ear. That’s because it’s failing to get the complete sound spectrum from just one ear so it’s working overly hard to make up for it. This is especially true when hearing loss in one ear suddenly occurs. This can make a lot of tasks during your day-to-day life more taxing.

So how does hearing loss in one ear happen?

Hearing professionals call muffled hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” Single sided hearing loss, unlike common “both ear hearing loss”, typically isn’t the result of noise related damage. So, other possible factors should be assessed.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most common responses to infection. It’s just how your body responds. Swelling in response to an infection isn’t always localized so hearing loss in one ear can be caused by any infection that would trigger inflammation.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name may sound rather frightening, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. You should still take this condition seriously, even though it isn’t cancerous, it can still be potentially life threatening.
  • Irregular Bone Growth: It’s feasible, in extremely rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the result of abnormal bone growth. And when it grows in a certain way, this bone can actually interfere with your hearing.
  • Ruptured eardrum: Normally, a ruptured eardrum is hard to miss. It can be due to head trauma, loud noises, or foreign objects in the ear (among other things). And it occurs when a hole is created between the thin membrane that divides your ear canal and middle ear. The outcome can be quite painful, and typically triggers tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Meniere’s Disease: When someone is coping with the degenerative condition called Menier’s disease, they frequently experience vertigo and hearing loss. It’s not uncommon with Menier’s disease to lose hearing in one ear before the other. Menier’s disease frequently is accompanied by single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be obstructed by excessive earwax packed in your ear canal. It has a similar effect to using earplugs. If this is the situation, don’t reach for a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can jam the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Ear infections: Swelling typical happens when you have an ear infection. And it will extremely difficult to hear through a swollen, closed up ear canal.

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

Depending on what’s triggering your single-sided hearing loss, treatments will vary. Surgery could be the best choice for specific obstructions such as tissue or bone growth. A ruptured eardrum or similar problems will usually heal naturally. And still others, such as an earwax based blockage, can be cleared away by simple instruments.

In some cases, however, your single-sided hearing loss may be permanent. We will help, in these situations, by prescribing one of two possible hearing aid solutions:

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

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This distinctive type of hearing aid is manufactured specifically for those with 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 complex, very cool, and very effective.

It all starts with your hearing specialist

There’s most likely a good reason why you’re only hearing out of one ear. It isn’t something that should be ignored. It’s important, both for your well-being and for the health of your hearing, 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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