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Half Deaf: Profound Unilateral (Single-Sided) Deafness

Updated on March 1, 2018

Whether you have recently lost hearing in one ear, know someone who is unilaterally deaf, or are just curious, this article will give you a good bit of insight into the condition. Even if you were born unilaterally deaf, I believe you may learn something new from this article, as I did while researching my condition.

I have had profound unilateral deafness since birth. I have normal hearing on the right, but I am 100% deaf on the left, regardless of volume or pitch. “Profound” in this instance, is defined as a 91 dB or greater hearing loss.

Growing up it was tough because I was very embarrassed and self-conscious. I didn’t have the confidence to simply say, “I’m deaf in one ear” as an explanation, when necessary. In fact, I was well into my twenties before I was comfortable enough with myself to talk about it openly and freely.

I later learned that Profound Unilateral Deafness creates a very unique set of challenges. You may notice certain quirks about people like me. However, they're not actually quirks but rather, side effects of this type of hearing loss.

Here are a few of the issues and challenges people like me face daily:

  • We cannot hear stereo or surround sound, or use standard headphones.
  • Determining the direction a sound is coming from is impossible.
  • We can’t properly perceive the volume of our own voice, especially when it’s noisy, so we tend to speak loudly.
  • Noisy situations are incredibly difficult. Our brains literally cannot filter out background noise, so speaking to someone in a noisy environment is virtually impossible. We only end up hearing about a quarter of the conversation, so you may see a lot of smiling and nodding.
  • Unusual mannerisms. We may stare at the speaker’s mouth to try reading lips, or turn our heads at an odd angle, in an attempt to hear better.

Unilaterally deafness can be very frustrating, especially since no one can see your impairment!

Unfortunately, it is not possible to re-train your brain to improve these issues, no matter how hard you try. So, is there any way to improve your quality of life? Are there hearing aids or surgeries adapted to Profound Unilateral Deafness?

The answer is, yes - Contralateral Routing of Signals (CROS) hearing aids. They essentially take the sound from the impaired ear and transmit it to the better hearing ear. Let's take a look at the different types:

Conventional CROS:

This aid looks like two behind-the-ear hearing aids. It is essentially a microphone placed by the impaired ear and an amplifier near the normal ear. The two units typically have a wire running between them behind the neck, but there are also wireless units available now.

CIC Transcranial CROS:

This aid works through bone conduction and has unit that is completely in the ear canal (CIC). It is placed deeply into the deaf ear, where it transfers sound vibration to the ear canal's bony walls. The sound vibration then travels through the bone (skull), to the normal ear.

SoundBite Intraoral Bone Conduction:

This is another hearing aid that works through bone conduction, but this time via the teeth. One unit goes behind the ear like a conventional hearing aid and the other is worn in the mouth, resembling a dental appliance.

BAHA Transcranial CROS:

This hearing aid works through bone conduction by way of a surgically implanted anchor. The hearing aid itself snaps onto the anchor and transmits the sound vibration to the normal ear through direct bone conduction. I personally got the BAHA about 15 years ago, when the others were not available, to my knowledge. You can read about my experience with this hearing aid at the link below.

CROS Hearing Aid
CROS Hearing Aid | Source

While none of the available hearing aids will restore stereo hearing, they do help to eliminate the “head shadow” effect. This is basically your head blocking the sound from your normal ear, so you can hear the sounds on your deaf side that you would otherwise miss. However, you probably still won't be able to tell which side the sound is coming from.

Whether you have unilateral deafness, know someone who does, or just wanted to learn more, I hope this has given you some helpful insight into the condition.

© 2018 Angela Tagliamonte


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