Unilateral hearing loss (UHL) is a form of hearing loss wherein one ear continues to be able to hear normally while the other ear's hearing is impaired. Also known as single-sided deafness (SSD), the amount of hearing loss can range from mild to profound unilateral hearing loss. According to a survey by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 1998, there are approximately 391,000 children that have this condition in the United States alone.
When this form of hearing loss is suspected, a person should see an audiologist. The doctor will perform a complete hearing test in order to figure out what degree and type of hearing loss is actually present. The patient should also see an otolaryngologist. This is a doctor who specializes in ear diseases, and can determine if the hearing loss is caused by some other health issue and whether or not it can be treated medically.
This form of hearing loss is usually permanent. Unilateral hearing loss may be present at birth, due to hereditary, or caused by complications either during pregnancy or at the time of delivery. Other unilateral hearing loss causes include trauma, high fevers, measles, mumps, and other diseases. Unfortunately, there is no one single known cause of unilateral hearing loss. Some of the most common symptoms of this type of hearing loss include difficulty with hearing a conversation that takes place on the side of the impaired ear, problems with locating sounds, and difficulty understanding speech whenever there is background noise present.
Many people who have unilateral hearing loss will also have tinnitus, a "phantom" ringing or other sound, in the same ear that the deafness occurs. This can be very frustrating, because while the person is unable to hear noises in that ear, he or she may hear a constant sound. For this reason, many doctors will try to at least treat the tinnitus so that it is no longer present; however, tinnitus is difficult to understand and treat. Sometimes tinnitus is caused by a buildup of wax in either the ear canal or in the auditory tube itself. This can even be bad enough to cause the single-sided deafness itself.
A unilateral hearing loss can directly affect the life of someone who has to live with it. While some people will benefit from using a hearing aid, this is not always true when the hearing loss is severe. Nevertheless, most audiologists will still recommend the use of certain types of hearing aid as a form of treatment.