Audiology 101: What Is Binaural Hearing?

hearing from both ears

Audiology 101: What Is Binaural Hearing?

People naturally have what is called binaural hearing, or the ability to hear in both ears. At some point in life, you may lose hearing in one or both of your ears. When you lose hearing in one ear, you may think it’s okay to treat only that ear, but this isn’t always the case. Read on to learn more about unilateral hearing loss, binaural hearing, and the importance of proper treatment.

What Is Unilateral Hearing Loss?

Sometimes called monaural hearing loss, unilateral hearing loss refers to hearing impairment that affects one ear. For some people, unilateral hearing loss is present at birth. These instances are usually the result of genetics or craniofacial differences. Some cases of congenital hearing loss occur randomly without an identifiable cause.

For others, unilateral hearing loss occurs later in life and progressively gets worse over time. When it happens later in life, it can be due to a viral infection, autoimmune disease, or injury to the affected ear. Some people experience unilateral hearing loss spontaneously, with no known cause or risk factors present.

What Is Binaural Hearing Loss?

Also known as bilateral hearing loss, binaural hearing loss refers to hearing impairment in both ears. Sometimes binaural hearing loss is congenital or present at birth. This is often due to congenital disabilities or craniofacial abnormalities. It can sometimes be caused by viruses that affect newborns, such as the rubella virus.

More often, bilateral hearing loss occurs later in life. Binaural hearing loss that occurs in adulthood can have a variety of causes, including the following:

  • Medication use
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Aging
  • Injury to the ears
  • Ear infections

Sometimes bilateral hearing loss occurs idiopathically, which means that it has developed spontaneously with no identifiable cause.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Whether it be unilateral or binaural hearing loss, there are specific symptoms that occur with any hearing impairment. These are some of the most common symptoms of unilateral hearing loss:

  • Tinnitus or ringing in one ear
  • Difficulty hearing from one side
  • Preferring one ear over the other when using the phone
  • Trouble locating where sounds are coming from
  • Difficulty understanding conversations
  • Feeling fatigued from straining to hear

Many of the symptoms of binaural hearing loss overlap with those of unilateral hearing loss, but they are more pronounced. The following are some of the ways that bilateral hearing loss can manifest:

  • Difficulty hearing and understanding conversations
  • Hesitancy to talk on the phone
  • Inability to distinguish sounds from one another
  • Ringing, hissing, or crackling in both ears
  • Inability to hear from both ears either at the same time or intermittently
  • Frequent requests for repetition or clarification 

When you notice signs of either monaural or binaural hearing loss, getting evaluated by an audiologist is essential. These symptoms are often related to hearing loss but can also be attributed to other conditions. It is important to identify the cause of your symptoms early on and begin the best course of treatment.

Treating Hearing Loss to Restore Binaural Hearing

Treatment for hearing loss can take several different approaches. The goal is to re-establish your binaural hearing and resolve any symptoms you’ve been experiencing. In many cases, both ears will need to be treated even if you have unilateral hearing loss. The point of this is to ensure that both ears are at the same level of hearing capability.

Hearing aid placement is the most common treatment for unilateral or bilateral hearing loss. Hearing aids can be customized to provide a specific amount of amplification in either one or both ears. These aids can also be custom-fitted to your ear to provide ideal comfort and function.

Another way to treat hearing loss is with cochlear implants. Cochlear implants can be placed in one or both ears to make it easier to hear and process sounds. These implants can also resolve any balance issues caused by hearing impairment. 

Where to Find Hearing Loss Treatment

Are you struggling with hearing loss in one or both ears? When you experience hearing impairment, it is vital to get prompt treatment. Happy Ears Hearing Center is a leading provider of hearing evaluations and hearing aids throughout Arizona. Contact us online or by phone to schedule your hearing evaluation today.