Hearing loss on one side occurs when you have difficulty hearing or you have deafness that affects only one of your ears. People with this condition may have problems understanding speech in crowded environments, locating the source of a sound, and tuning out background noise.
This condition is also known as unilateral hearing loss or unilateral deafness. It may be described as deafness in one ear or on one side, hearing loss in one ear, or inability to hear from one ear. You should still be able to hear clearly with your other ear.
You should always contact your doctor if you experience any type of hearing loss. Sudden hearing loss on one side or both is a medical emergency and needs immediate medical attention. Your doctor will be able to provide treatment options and may refer you to a specialist.
Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, your doctor might recommend medications, surgery, or a hearing aid. In some cases, the condition will go away without treatment.
There are many possible causes for hearing loss on one side, including:
- injury to the ear
- exposure to loud noises or certain drugs
- blockage of the ear
Hearing changes can be a natural outcome of aging. Some causes are reversible, like wax buildup in the ear canal or ear infections with fluid buildup. Some are irreversible, like those due to problems with the function of the ear itself.
In addition to head or ear injuries or the presence of a foreign body in the ear, the following medical conditions can result in hearing loss on one side:
- acoustic neuroma: a type of tumor that presses on the nerve that affects hearing
- eardrum rupture: a small hole or tear in the eardrum
- labyrinthitis: a disorder that causes the inner ear apparatus to become swollen and irritated
- Meniere’s disease: a disorder that affects the inner ear and eventually leads to deafness
- neurofibromatosis type 2: an inherited disease that causes noncancerous growths to appear on the auditory nerve
- otitis externa (swimmer’s ear): inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal
- otitis media with effusion: an infection with thick or sticky fluid behind the eardrum
- shingles: an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox
- Reye's syndrome: a rare disorder, most often seen in children
- temporal arteritis: inflammation and damage to the blood vessels in the head and neck
- vertebrobasilar insufficiency: poor blood flow to the back of the brain
Hearing loss in one ear may also be the result of prescription medications like:
- chemotherapy drugs
- diuretics such as furosemide
- salicylate (aspirin) toxicity
- antibiotics such as streptomycin and tobramycin
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 10 to 15 percent of people who suffer from sudden hearing loss have an identifiable reason for their condition. It’s important to make an appointment with your doctor any time you experience hearing loss in one or both ears.
During your visit, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and conduct a physical examination of your ears, nose, and throat.
Your doctor may also order a hearing test. During this test, your doctor or a specialist known as an audiologist will measure how you respond to a range of sounds and tones at various volume levels. These tests can help your doctor determine the part of the ear that is affected, which can provide clues as to the underlying cause of the hearing loss.
Treatment options for your hearing loss will depend on the cause of your condition. In some cases, hearing loss will be irreversible. Your doctor may recommend a hearing aid to help improve your hearing if there is no other treatment for your hearing loss.
Other treatment options may include:
- surgery to repair the ear or remove a tumor
- antibiotics to treat infection
- steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling
- stopping use of the medication that may be causing the hearing loss
Hearing loss caused by wax buildup can be treated by gently removing the earwax. You can try over-the-counter products at home such as hydrogen peroxide, a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, or earwax removal products such as Debrox. You should always seek professional help if these products do not improve your condition within a few days. Prolonged use of these products can cause irritation to your ears. If you have a foreign object in your ear that is affecting your hearing, do not attempt to remove it on your own. Never insert cotton swabs or any objects such as tweezers to remove a foreign body, as these objects can cause ear injury. If you are experiencing any additional symptoms like dizziness, facial weakness, imbalance, or neurological symptoms, you should be evaluated by your doctor immediately.