Likely Causes of Hearing Loss in One Ear

Woman cupping ear and grimacing because of single sided hearing loss

Let’s pretend you go to a rock concert. You’re cool, so you spend all night in the front row. It’s not exactly hearing-healthy, but it’s fun, and the next day, you wake up with two ringing ears. (That part’s less fun.)

But what if you can only hear out of one ear when you wake up? Well, if that’s the case, the rock concert may not be the cause. Something else may be at work. And you might be a bit alarmed when you experience hearing loss in only one ear.

In addition, your hearing may also be a little out of whack. Usually, your brain is processing information from both ears. So only getting signals from a single ear can be disorienting.

Hearing loss in one ear creates problems, here’s why

In general, your ears work as a functional pair. Just like having two forward facing eyes helps you with depth perception and visual clarity, having two outward facing ears helps you hear more accurately. So when one of your ears stops working correctly, havoc can happen. Here are a few of the most prevalent:

  • You can have difficulty pinpointing the direction of sounds: You hear someone attempting to get your attention, but looking around, you can’t locate where they are. It’s exceptionally difficult to triangulate the direction of sound with only one ear working.
  • When you’re in a noisy setting it becomes very difficult to hear: Loud settings like event venues or noisy restaurants can become overwhelming with just one ear working. That’s because all that sound seems to be coming from every-which-direction randomly.
  • You have difficulty discerning volume: In the same way as you need both ears to triangulate direction, you kind of need both ears to figure out how loud something is. Think about it this way: You won’t be certain if a sound is distant or merely quiet if you don’t know where the sound was originating from.
  • You tire your brain out: Your brain will become more fatigued faster if you can only hear out of one ear. That’s because it’s desperately trying to compensate for the lack of hearing from one of your ears. This is particularly true when hearing loss in one ear suddenly occurs. Normal daily tasks, as a result, will become more taxing.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss in one ear?

Hearing specialists call impaired hearing in one ear “unilateral hearing loss” or “single-sided hearing loss.” Single sided hearing loss, in contrast to common “both ear hearing loss”, normally isn’t the result of noise related damage. This means that it’s time to consider other possible causes.

Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Meniere’s Disease: When somebody is coping with the degenerative condition called Menier’s disease, they often experience vertigo and hearing loss. Often, the disease advances asymmetrically: one ear may be impacted before the other. Menier’s disease frequently comes with single sided hearing loss and ringing.
  • Abnormal Bone Growth: It’s possible, in very rare instances, that hearing loss on one side can be the result of irregular bone growth. This bone can, when it grows in a certain way, interfere with your ability to hear.
  • Other infections: Swelling is one of your body’s most prevailing responses to infection. It’s just how your body responds. This reaction isn’t always localized, so any infection that triggers swelling can lead to the loss of hearing in one ear.
  • Acoustic Neuroma: While the name might sound kind of frightening, an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves of the inner ear. While it’s not cancerous, necessarily, an acoustic neuroma is still a significant (and possibly life-threatening) condition that you should speak with your provider about.
  • Earwax: Yes your hearing can be blocked by too much earwax packed in your ear canal. It has a similar effect to wearing earplugs. If this is the situation, do not reach for a cotton swab. Cotton swabs can jam the earwax even further up against the eardrum.
  • Ruptured eardrum: Usually, a ruptured eardrum is difficult to miss. Objects in the ear, head trauma, or loud noise (among other things) can be the cause of a ruptured eardrum. When the thin membrane separating your ear canal and your middle ear has a hole in it, this type of injury occurs. The outcome can be really painful, and normally triggers tinnitus or hearing loss in that ear.
  • Ear infections: Swelling typical happens when you’re experiencing an ear infection. And this swelling can obstruct your ear canal, making it impossible for you to hear.

So how should I handle hearing loss in one ear?

Treatments for single-sided hearing loss will vary based upon the root cause. Surgery could be the best option for certain obstructions like tissue or bone growth. A ruptured eardrum or similar issues will usually heal naturally. And still others, such as an earwax based obstruction, can be cleared away by simple instruments.

In some instances, however, your single-sided hearing loss might be permanent. We will help, in these cases, by prescribing one of two potential hearing aid solutions:

  • CROS Hearing Aid: This special kind of hearing aid is designed specifically for those who have single-sided hearing loss. With this hearing aid, sound is picked up at your bad ear and sent to your good ear where it’s detected by your brain. It’s quite effective not to mention complicated and very cool.
  • Bone-Conduction Hearing Aids: These hearing aids bypass most of the ear by using your bones to transmit sound to the brain.

Your hearing specialist is where it all starts

If you can’t hear out of both of your ears, there’s probably a reason. In other words, this isn’t a symptom you should be ignoring. It’s important, both for your well-being and for your hearing health, to get to the bottom of those causes. So schedule a visit with us today, so you can begin hearing out of both ears again!


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Lately you’ve noticed that you can’t hear out of one ear. Is that bad? (Spoiler: It’s likely.) What could be the cause? And when should you see a hearing professional?