Many adults with hearing in only one ear have been told by their doctors to simply ‘live with it’. Unilateral deafness can actually be very debilitating, as it causes issues with hearing in noisy environments, sound localization, and inability to hear soft sounds from the affected side. Studies have found that children with unilateral hearing loss have poorer school performance and attention when compared to normal hearing children.
Unlike the past, patients who are affected with unilateral hearing loss are encouraged to seek treatment as there have been many recent advancements in therapy for this unique condition.
It is important that you consult with your otologist (ear specialist) to find out exactly the nature of your hearing loss. There may be multiple reasons for the hearing loss, such as infections, growths, and tumors. Single sided deafness is the term given when all other treatable factors for hearing loss are ruled out, and the patient has a prolonged sensorineural hearing deficit.
What medical treatments are available for single sided deafness?
If the hearing loss occurred recently, it is important to seek an otologist (ear specialist) immediately as hearing can be restored if treated in a timely manner. If the hearing loss occurred within the last 2 months, you may be a candidate for corticosteroid therapy. This can be administered through a pill, an injection, or both.
If the hearing loss is long-standing, there are still some options to help service the affected ear. This includes a special hearing aid called a CROS hearing aid. The CROS hearing aid is worn on both ears. The hearing aid on the affected ear serves as a microphone and sound from this side is transferred over wirelessly to the hearing aid on the normal ear. Any sound from the affected ear is therefor picked up by the CROS hearing aid and transferred to the better hearing ear.
Are there surgical treatments available?
There have been some amazing advancements in bone conduction implant technology to help with single sided deafness. The BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) is a special implant that is worn on the side of the affected ear. The implant takes sound energy and converts it to vibratory energy. These vibrations are then conducted over to the better ear without any additional devices, allowing the patient to hear sound from the poorer hearing ear almost naturally.
How is the BAHA procedure performed?
The BAHA is implanted in a minor outpatient surgical procedure that is very short and almost always performed under local anesthesia. The incision is very small and is hidden inside the hair. Patients can go home the same day, and the device is activated a month after surgery.
The procedure involves the placement of a titanium implant in the skull behind the ear. The patient can decide if they want the BAHA device to connect to the implant through a magnet underneath the skin, or through a small titanium attachment on the scalp.
Once implanted, the hearing device is able to collect sound and transmit it to the titanium implant in the skull thereby causing vibrations in the skull and ear which stimulates the inner ear and leads to hearing.
What is the difference between a BAHA and a CROS hearing aid?
The CROS hearing aid requires the patient to wear hearing aids in both ears. One hearing aid acts as a microphone, and the other one transmits the sound to the good ear. The CROS hearing aids are usually purchased through a hearing aid dispenser.
The BAHA device is only worn on the side of the affected ear. It can be easily hidden by your hair as it is placed on the scalp behind the ear. Patients feel that the sound from the BAHA feels more organic, with less feedback. The BAHA is recognized by most insurances as a medically necessary implant for single sided hearing loss.
Are there any other treatments for single sided deafness?
It is important that you obtain a full evaluation by your otologist to make sure there are no other treatable causes for your hearing loss. There are now some new indications for patients with single sided deafness to undergo cochlear implantation. A cochlear implant is a device that is implanted into the inner ear and stimulates the hearing nerve directly through electrical energy. Recent studies show that patients with a cochlear implant in the deaf ear are not only hearing better overall, but also gaining back the ability to effectively localize sound.