A sudden hearing loss in one ear is often temporary.
Single-sided deafness (also known as unilateral hearing loss) happens more often than you might think. However, it can usually be fixed if you identify the cause soon enough with appropriate medical attention.
Just don’t wait too long – it’s vital to address any issues within the first week. Otherwise, your ability to recover is significantly lessened.
The consequences of an untreated single-sided hearing loss include a reduced sense of direction. It also becomes challenging to understand conversations in noisy environments.
So, how does it happen?
There are several potential causes of unilateral hearing loss. Let’s go over them so you can take corrective action as soon as possible.
Earwax Buildup & Infections Can Cause Single-Sided Deafness
While earwax is essential to protect your middle and inner ears from dust and other debris, too much earwax is a problem.
If your outer ear is full of earwax that blocks sound from getting through, you’ll feel like you’re not hearing properly (or at all). Sometimes the earwax levels in one ear build up naturally. Other causes include using a lot of Q-tips which push the wax farther down your ear.
The result is a small wax barrier that needs to be removed with oils or irrigation. But earwax isn’t the only issue.
Outer ear infections are also a potential culprit for causing unilateral hearing loss because they can cause a buildup of excessive middle ear fluid. This fluid can block sound transmission from the three bones in your middle ear.
Again, this causes the sensation of partial or complete deafness until the infection is cleared and the fluid is drained. Sometimes it may not be the middle ear itself that’s infected, which is why it’s always essential to visit a doctor if you suspect something is up.
Other Infections or Blockages That Cause Unilateral Hearing Loss
The eustachian tubes are small passages that connect the inner ear to the upper throat behind the nose. They equalize pressure in the ear, clear secretions, and protect it from pathogens.
From time to time, these tubes can get blocked, and pressure can no longer equalize. This buildup of pressure can cause a feeling of fullness, deafness, and even ear pain.
In the case of a minor blockage, the solution can be as simple as swallowing, chewing gum, or yawning.
But a more serious blockage may require medication because fluid builds up in the middle ear. You’ll need a medical examination and perhaps a hearing test to determine the real cause of the problem.
A Ruptured Eardrum’s Effect on Deafness in One Ear
When the thin tissue that separates the ear canal from the middle ear gets torn or punctured, this condition is known as a ruptured eardrum.
A ruptured eardrum can result in hearing loss in that ear and, while it often heals within a few weeks without treatment, surgery is sometimes required.
Causes of ruptured eardrums include infections, very loud noises, pressure changes, or objects such as cotton buds being pushed too deep into the ear canal.
Regardless of the cause, medical attention should be sought so a qualified professional can determine if a rupture has occurred and if it’s likely to heal on its own.
Once the ruptured eardrum is restored to full health, your temporary hearing loss should also be corrected.
Other Causes of Unilateral Hearing Loss
While less common, a condition known as Meniere’s disease can cause single-sided deafness, dizziness, ringing in the ears, or a stuffy feeling in the affected ear. This condition can develop at any age, but it’s more likely to afflict adults between 40 and 60 years old.
Medication can treat the disease, but surgery is sometimes needed for certain patients who don’t respond to available medicines, a salt-restricted diet, or cognitive therapy.
Another less common cause of unilateral hearing loss is otosclerosis. This is abnormal bone growth that disrupts the ability of sound to travel from the middle ear to the inner ear. One or more of the bones gets stuck in place and is unable to vibrate and transmit sound.
Measles infections, stress fractures, or immune disorders are all possible causes and so far only surgery is the truly effective treatment for severe cases.
Do You Have Questions about Hearing Loss in One Ear?
By now you have a pretty good idea of what causes single-sided deafness. The more minor problems are easily fixed, but others require more detailed treatment.
If you suspect you have too much wax in your ears, an infection, or any of the other conditions we’ve discussed above, we highly suggest that you go to your primary care doctor or your ear, nose, and throat doctor for treatment.
You can also visit us at Audiological Services, and we’ll assess your hearing during your visit. We may be able to remove your earwax buildup if that’s what’s causing your unilateral hearing loss as well as diagnose your hearing loss so you have a report to give to your doctor.
The bottom line is that most deafness in one ear is usually temporary and, in most cases, you shouldn’t require a permanent solution such as a hearing aid.