Julia told me she would never forget the moment she discovered her son had single-sided deafness. They were doing homework together when Gabe, age 7, mentioned off-handedly that a friend at school had yelled at him for ignoring him in the hallway. Apparently, this happened a lot.
Gabe had always done okay in school and had never given any indication that he couldn’t hear her at home. So she had never suspected hearing loss, but she decided to go ahead and bring him in to see me.
I performed a hearing test and found that Gabe had a moderate hearing loss in one ear. We talked. He could function well at home when it was just their small family, but he struggled in loud environments, like the cafeteria or hallway.
Researchers estimate that between 0.1% and 5% of children may develop hearing loss in one ear. One study found that 10% of children with unilateral hearing loss may progress to hearing loss in both ears.
Because a child like Gabe has normal hearing in one ear, they often teach themselves to manage the condition. They may not think to tell their parents, but one-sided hearing loss can present a lot of challenges that parents shouldn’t ignore.
The Challenges & Signs of Single-Sided Deafness in Children
Ears work together to understand sound, direction, and volume. So when the two ears hear differently, many challenges arise. Watching for these signs may give you a clue that a child has single-sided deafness.
- Difficulty outside the home – They function as if they did not have any hearing loss at home, but outside the home, they show signs.
- Trouble locating who is speaking and where
- Experiencing all sound at a lower volume – When two ears hear something, the brain registers it as louder than it is, so if a child only hears well out of one ear, the brain may perceive all sounds as quieter even though the hearing ear has not changed.
- Missing important information – when directed toward the deaf ear.
- Lots of accidents – Sports, on a playground, and walking along the street have added dangers.
- Difficulty hearing in a room with distractions – Classrooms can get noisy, depending on the activity.
- Trouble in school – A 20-year study found that around 35% of children with one-sided hearing have to repeat at least one grade, compared to 3.5% for the general population.
- Feelings of exhaustion – Your child needs to work harder to hear and understand. They may get mentally fatigued or become frustrated easily because anything involving hearing is not easy.
Causes of Single-Sided Deafness in Children
Hearing loss in just one ear can be the result of:
- Trauma to the head
- One ear exposed to a very loud sound at close range
- Ear infection
- Certain diseases
Helping a Child With One-Sided Hearing Loss
Current technology cannot fully restore hearing, but hearing aids can significantly improve a child’s ability to hear and process sound. I was able to fit Gabe with a Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid in a dark green color he loves. Now, his ears can work together again to understand sound more easily.
If your child is showing signs, please bring them in to get a hearing test and discuss age-appropriate hearing solutions to match your child’s hearing needs.