Bilateral Hearing Loss: Why 2 Hearing Aids are Better than 1

In hearing aids, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S.
Latest posts by Laurie Duffy, M.S. (see all)

If you’ve just found out you have hearing loss, a flurry of questions are probably flying around in your head. You might be wondering how to choose the right treatment path and how to find the right hearing aid for your needs. Or your questions might be more fundamental, wondering if you really need to treat your hearing loss, and wondering if there are ways to cut corners, like using only one hearing aid instead of a balanced pair.

No Short Cuts

Unfortunately, there’s not really a way to scrimp with your hearing health and not feel the effects. If you are considering just using one hearing aid instead of two you should understand the impact it can have on your experience. Most hearing loss is irreversible, and our hearing often declines as we age and our auditory system becomes more delicate. This means that hearing damage cannot be repaired, although its impact can be minimized through the use of hearing devices. Modern hearing aids are technological marvels- discreet microcomputers that help us access sounds we have lost.

Your intuition after reading that might be “Great- my hearing loss isn’t so bad – I’ll just use one of those little power houses to do the work for both my ears!” Sadly, one hearing aid can’t do the work of a pair. Paired hearing aids help perform binaural hearing for us, telling us about the location of sound and helping us distinguish relevant sounds from background noise. Additionally, leaving hearing loss untreated corrodes the connection between the ear and our brain. Trying to save money by only using a single hearing aid can result in greater costs to your immediate quality of life and to your hearing health down the road.

How Hearing Works

Just as having two eyes helps us understand where objects are spatially, having two ears lets us understand the origin and direction of sound. Sound, traveling as waves through the air, hits each of our ears at slightly different moments. If I stand to your left and say “Hello,” my greeting will hit your left ear before it reaches your right ear. Your brain does the instantaneous processing of this slight time difference, and you can detect that I am speaking to you from your left side.

By contrast, using just one ear makes interpreting the source of sound much foggier. Without being able to place sounds, it becomes harder to sort out the words of nearby conversation from the environmental noise of a room. It can also limit your ability to assess where sirens, emergency signals and sounds of possible danger are coming from. Part of what paired hearing aids do is assisting your hearing to help you localize sound correctly, something a single hearing aid cannot do.

Unilateral Hearing Loss

Localization of sound is so important to our comprehension, it may surprise you that the best treatment for single-sided (unilateral) hearing loss is often a paired hearing device.

Hearing aids like Phonak’s CROS II are designed to help replicate the sound lag between ears. A microphone device placed in the ear with hearing loss transmits the sound wirelessly to a hearing aid worn in the good ear. The transmission replicates the sound lag between ears and helps naturally reformulate the ability to localize sound.

Bilateral Hearing Loss

When hearing loss is present in both ears it’s called bilateral hearing loss and both ears should be involved in its treatment. With paired hearing aids, the device for each side is programmed to the specific hearing needs of the ear it is in to maximize your hearing ability in each ear. This improved access to sound in each ear helps give you a clearer ability to localize sound, creating a sturdier hearing foundation for comprehension. Bilateral hearing aids like the Oticon OPN use digital processing to help emphasize localization.

Treating both ears for hearing loss is also preventative. When the connection between the brain and the inner ear is lost or strained, the brain rewrites how it hears sound to compensate for lost sensitivity. The longer hearing loss goes untreated, the less we are able to return to how the brains unimpaired connection to hearing. Hearing aids help maintain your brain’s processing ability by keeping it connected to your inner ear.

Opting for one hearing aid instead of two means letting the hearing in the un-aided ear potentially worsen. Hearing with just one ear becomes lopsided as your brain will come to rely on a single ear, and your mind’s connection to your weaker ear can diminish. If there comes a time where you wish to switch from a single hearing aid to a pair, you may find the hearing in ear that had been left un-assisted has deteriorated from disuse.

Sooner the Better

Purchasing a single hearing aid may look like it saves you some dollars, but actually it doesn’t make much sense. What looks like a bargain now takes a toll down the road. Single hearing aids give you a diminished experience of hearing treatment and can impact your hearing significantly over the long term. Hearing aids are an investment in your health and quality of life and they give you a much richer experience when they work in pairs.

If you’d like to learn more and want to keep your hearing at its best, contact us at Hear Care Rhode Island. We’re here to help you with all aspects of your hearing health.