You wake up one morning and realize you can’t hear out of one ear. At best, it’s annoying. At worst, it’s frightening. What’s going on? How serious can it be? Do you need to see a doctor? MDHearing wants you to feel confident in understanding your hearing health. Below are some common and not so common hearing issues and their potential causes.
“I can’t hear out of one ear.”
When it comes to any sudden hearing loss in one ear, you should go see your physician or audiologist right away. But these are some common problems that could be causing it.
As the name implies, airplane ear is that frustrating pressure you feel when you rapidly change elevations, like when you’re flying. You may also experience this when scuba diving due to the increased water pressure, or during colds, certain kinds of sinus allergies, and sinus or ear infections. The tried-and-true treatment of chewing gum and opening your jaw wide can often take care of the issue. If airplane ear persists, your doctor might suggest over the counter antihistamines or decongestants to alleviate the pressure.
This unilateral hearing loss could be conductive hearing loss, meaning the ear canal is blocked by wax, fluid, or some other foreign body. This kind of hearing loss is generally not permanent, but it’s important to clear the blockage to avoid other issues, like inflammation or vertigo. Visit an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor to clear out your ear.
Going forward, avoid using Q-tips (which will only push the earwax further into the canal) and instead gently clean your ears with a washcloth while showering. You can also purchase ear drops to help safely unplug your ears at home.
Perforated Ear Drum
A perforated ear drum can happen when there’s physical trauma to the ear. Some signs of a tear in the ear drum include:
- Vertigo and nausea
- On again, off again ear pain
- Bloody or pus ear drainage
If your doctor diagnoses it as a perforated ear drum, there are a few things that might happen. Often the tear can heal on its own within a few weeks, and your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic if there’s potential for infection. If it doesn’t seem to heal on its own, your doctor might apply an eardrum patch which will work as a bandage to encourage healing and bring extra protection to the area.
If necessary, your doctor could decide to perform a tympanoplasty, an outpatient surgery that puts a skin graft over the tear. The good news is, there are many different ways to handle a perforated eardrum.
Permanent Hearing Loss
Your one-ear hearing loss could also be sensorineural hearing loss. That means your inner ear or its auditory nerve is damaged. While sensorineural hearing loss tends to affect both ears to some extent, one ear could have much more damage than the other. This kind of hearing loss can be:
This kind of hearing loss tends to be permanent, but hearing aids can be a major help. Not only do they allow you to hear better in that ear, but hearing aids can also protect the hearing you still have. MDHearing is dedicated to helping people with permanent hearing loss get high quality, affordable hearing aids.
We hope this will help you evaluate your hearing problem. Here are some other common hearing issues and the possible causes.
“There’s ringing in one ear.”
Maybe it’s not that you can’t hear out of one ear, but there’s just ringing. If you’re noticing ringing in one or both of your ears, you may have some form of tinnitus. While the cause of tinnitus is unknown, the running theory is that when auditory nerves get damaged in some way, the brain will try to balance out the damage, but it overcompensates. That makes the auditory system overact and produce that ringing sound. Tinnitus can result from a variety of issues, including loud noise exposure, TMJ disorders, ear and sinus infections, head injuries, or even extreme wax build-up. More severe tinnitus might require hearing aids.
“My daughter’s voice is muffled.”
If you’re having trouble hearing high tones (like women’s and children’s voices), you might be developing presbycusis. This is commonly known as age-related hearing loss and affects a lot of older Americans. Another sign you might have presbycusis is hearing muffled or slurred voices, even when those around you can hear each other perfectly. This kind of hearing loss develops slowly over time, so you might not notice it until the symptoms become pronounced. If you are diagnosed with presbycusis, your physician might tell you to get hearing aids.
“I can hear high sounds and low sounds, but not sounds in the middle!”
This is called cookie bite hearing loss. Less common than presbycusis, this type of hearing loss tends to have genetic causes rather than noise exposure or age-related issues. Its name comes from the u-shape of the audiogram results, as if someone took a bite out of it. Because it’s such an unusual type of hearing loss, you might need special hearing aids designed for those specific needs.
“I feel ear pressure, my hearing has gotten worse, and I keep getting dizzy.”
These are all symptoms of Meniere’s disease, which can affect both ears, but often only affects one (which increases the vertigo). You should go see a physician right away because these symptoms are all very serious.
Scientists still don’t know the exact cause of this disorder, but fluid blockage, ear infections, and genetic issues could be part of it. Reducing your salt intake can reduce the fluid buildup and the painful ear pressure. Your doctor may prescribe anti-nausea or motion sickness medication to help temper the dizzy spells, and hearing aids to help with the hearing loss. For the most severe Meniere’s disease issues, surgery could be necessary. That said, these symptoms could also be a case of a sinus or ear infection.
“The world sounds too loud.”
To many of us, the world seems to steadily be getting louder and louder every day with every new piece of technology making more and more of a commotion. However, if you’ve been noticing a rapid change in the loudness of certain sounds, this can have a couple different causes.
The more common one is a disorder called hearing recruitment, which can develop along with hearing loss itself. Similar to tinnitus, your hair cells overcompensate for your hearing loss by increasing the signal from the healthy hair cells. This creates abnormal perception of sound. Your audiologist might suggest getting a hearing aid. This won’t cure your hearing issues, but it will allow your hair cells to stop working overtime and should re-balance your sound perception.
The other potential cause is hyperacusis, in which your noise tolerance decreases over time. You might not even have hearing loss, but everyday background noises that used to not bother you can range from painful to completely unbearable. If you’re diagnosed with hyperacusis, your audiologist might start you on retraining therapy. Over time, your auditory system can slowly start to tolerate those sounds again.
In either case, don’t assume constantly using earplugs will fix the problem. While wearing ear protection in loud sound environments (like concerts and around equipment) is important, wearing them all the time to block out the loud noises of the world can actually throw your hearing off balance even more and make your abnormal sound perception even worse.
One Last Thing…
Hearing health is a complicated topic. While we hope you now feel more knowledgeable about your hearing issues, it’s important to go see your physician or audiologist if you notice any of these symptoms. They can examine your ears, test your hearing, and diagnose the exact health issue. From there, you can make informed choices on the health of your hearing.
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