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“I Can’t Hear Out of One Ear” and 5 Other Hearing Problems

Last updated on Apr 1, 2019

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? MDHearingAid 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, you should go see your physician or audiologist right away. 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. If the blockage was due to ear wax, you can also purchase ear drops to help safely unplug your ears at home.

If you still can’t hear out of one ear, your doctor can check to see if it’s an ear infection, and then they might prescribe an antibiotic. If it’s a perforated eardrum, you might need surgery. Your one ear hearing loss could also be sensorineural hearing loss, in which your inner ear or auditory nerve is damaged. This kind of hearing loss tends to be permanent, but hearing aids can not only help you hear better in that ear, but can also protect the hearing you still have.

“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.

Can't hear out of one ear

“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.

Has your audiologist told you to get hearing aids? Know all your options! Send your hearing test to our in-house audiologist and we’ll evaluate what hearing aids works for you.

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