September 2, 2014

Ask the Audiologist

By Rachel F. King, Au.D.
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

Some people only wear one hearing aid, while for most it is recommended to wear two. The simple answer is that it depends on each individual’s hearing loss as to what is recommended.

The first possibility for only one hearing aid is that there is only hearing loss in one ear. Most of the time, hearing loss is in both ears. Occasionally, however, there are times when the cause of the hearing loss only affects one ear. If there is normal hearing in one ear, it is not necessary to put a hearing aid on the good ear. We put a hearing aid on the ear with poorer hearing to try to balance out the sound between the two ears.

Why would we want to balance out the sound? One good ear should be enough, right? We used to think that was the case. However, research on how the brain uses sound from the ears for communication has shown us the importance of having sound balanced between the ears. Our brains rely on information coming from both ears to be able to figure out where sounds are coming from. This is important for safety concerns – you want to know when there is a car coming up behind you, or to the side of you, and you want to know which direction its traveling! But, knowing where sound is coming from is also important for communicating in groups. Especially with hearing loss, you need to be able to identify who is speaking, so that you can look at them to achieve the best understanding. The brain also uses information from both ears to help with sorting through unwanted noise, versus wanted sound, such as someone speaking.

When you have hearing loss in both ears, the same ideas apply- we want to give the brain as much sound from both ears as possible to get the benefits already discussed. When it comes to wearing two hearing aids, other benefits apply as well. You get a better sound quality or a better fullness of sound when you wear two hearing aids. Technology in hearing aids today also usually relies on communication between two hearing aids to coordinate settings and to get the best benefits in challenging listening situations, such as noisy restaurants or outside on a windy day. The other benefit is not letting one ear “dangle.” Research indicates that it is possible that the brain will begin to ignore information from an ear that has hearing loss that is not treated with a hearing aid. Basically, you begin to lose your ability to understand speech in that ear. It’s much like wearing an eye patch over one eye for long periods of time. The brain eventually ignores the patched eye.

Occasionally, there may be a case where the hearing loss in one ear is too severe to benefit from a hearing aid. For example, if you just cannot understand speech through one ear, even when it’s loud enough, or it is just not possible to make a hearing aid loud enough. Using a hearing aid may actually make things worse in this case, rather than better. For these cases there are other solutions we can try.

The last possibility for why someone only wears one
hearing aid is personal preference. You always have a choice when it comes to your hearing care. Your audiologist makes recommendations to you about what would give you the best possible benefits with your hearing aids. In the end, you are the person who has to wear the hearing aids. We find that most patients, once they have tried two hearing aids, notice a significant benefit with the use of two hearing aids, when needed, rather than just one.

Talk to your audiologist and ask why they are recommending two hearing aids. They can better answer to your individual situation. The bottom line is everyone’s hearing is different, so everyone has a slightly different solution to a hearing loss.

Filed Under: Health & Wellness