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Hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions that people experience today. Characterized by a reduced capacity to perceive and process sound, hearing loss can occur in one or both ears. When hearing is impaired in both ears, it is referred to as bilateral hearing loss. This is more common than hearing loss only occurring in one ear. People often think that they are only experiencing hearing loss in one ear, referring to the other as their “good ear”. But different degrees of impairment can exist in both ears meaning that hearing loss can be worse in one ear compared to the other. Treating bilateral hearing loss by wearing two hearing aids is the most effective way to maximize hearing and strengthen overall hearing health.
Bilateral vs. Unilateral Hearing Loss
Unilateral hearing loss is when hearing loss is only experienced in one ear. This differs from bilateral hearing loss which is the reduction of hearing ability in both ears. A hearing test measures hearing capacity in both ears which identifies the specific type and degree of hearing loss in each ear. Bilateral hearing loss can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical hearing loss is when the degree of hearing loss is the same in both ears whereas asymmetrical refers to different degrees of hearing loss in each ear.
Common symptoms of bilateral hearing loss include the following:
- Sounds are slurred, muffled, or indistinct
- Difficulty distinguishing individual words
- Frequently asking others to speak louder, slower, and/or repeat themselves
- Trouble hearing and understanding speech, especially in environments with background noise
- Difficulty navigating conversations and feeling fatigued after social interactions
These symptoms can be mild to severe, impacting daily life. Bilateral hearing loss can strain communication, lead to social withdrawal, take a toll on mental health, and affect overall health outcomes.
Bilateral Hearing Loss: Types & Causes
There are three types of bilateral hearing loss:
- Sensorineural: this is the most common type of hearing loss and is typically caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells help translate incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to be further processed. Hair cells in the inner ear – unlike other types of cells – do not regenerate; this means that when there is damage, the effects are permanent. Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include exposure to loud noise, aging, genetic history, and existing medical conditions.
- Conductive: this type of hearing loss occurs in the outer or middle ear and prevents soundwaves from being carried to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is typically caused by physical damage that obstructs sound from traveling through the ears. This can include earwax buildup, perforated eardrum, growths, ear infection etc. Conductive hearing loss is often treatable with medications or surgical procedures, resulting in hearing loss that is experienced temporarily.
- Mixed: mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive.
Benefits of Two Hearing Aids
Bilateral hearing loss is often treated with hearing aids. These are electronic devices that are designed to absorb and process sound. This provides significant support, allowing people to hear with greater clarity and effectiveness. Wearing two hearing aids instead of one makes it easier for the brain to receive and process incoming sound information. Each hearing aid is programmed (by a hearing healthcare specialist) to meet the exact needs for each ear. This is particularly important because it is common to have different levels of hearing loss in each ear. Experts and extensive research recommends wearing two hearing aids which offers several benefits including:
- greater speech recognition: with two hearing aids, people are better able to pick up more sounds and speech, strengthening speech recognition and processing.
- higher sound quality: hearing aids supporting each ear makes it increasingly possible to hear and understand sound. This not only provides better sound quality but also facilitates clearer conversation.
- enhanced sound localization: when both ears can detect and absorb sound, this better allows people to know where the sound is coming from. This enhances overall hearing as well as increases safety and spatial awareness.
- safer listening: being able to hear much clearer out of both ears prevents people from having to increase the volume on their hearing aids and other electronic devices which protects hearing health.
These benefits contribute to a better overall experience. Two hearing aids allow people to navigate daily life with greater capacity to communicate and engage with others. Contact us to learn more about how hearing aids can transform your hearing health!