What Causes Hearing Loss In One Ear and How Can It Be Treated?

Hearing loss in one ear means you have difficulty hearing or deafness that affects only one of your ears. Also known as unilateral deafness or unilateral hearing loss, hearing loss in one ear is usually described as deafness on one side or in one ear, inability to hear from one ear, or hearing loss on one side. You’ll still be able to hear clearly with your other ear.

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any type of hearing loss. Sudden hearing loss in one or both ears is a medical emergency and demands immediate medical assistance. Your healthcare provider will be able to specify your treatment options and recommend them to a specialist. 

Based on the underlying cause of sudden deafness in one ear, your doctor might prescribe medications, a hearing aid, or surgery. In some instances, the condition recovers on its own without treatment.

How Hearing Loss In One Ear Impacts Hearing?

  • You may struggle with hearing in noisy environments: Your brain is at the helm of selective listening, meaning filtering out noises that aren’t significant enough. This is challenging to do without the support of the second ear. In noisy environments, a person with single-sided deafness may struggle to concentrate on a single person’s voice. 
  • You can’t always locate where a sound is coming from: Your brain recognizes where a sound is coming from by which ear captures the sound first, called directional hearing or sound localization. When a person can only hear properly from one ear, he/she may have trouble finding out where the sound originated.
  • You may not be able to multitask: Hearing loss in one ear increases the cognitive load on the brain. The more noise there is, the longer your brain takes to concentrate on the tasks at hand. If you’re also trying to listen to someone, you can miss a significant portion of what is being said.  
  • You may not be able to perceive how loud a sound is: The brain hears sound more loudly when it’s perceived through both ears than if the same sound at the same decibel were only grasped through one ear. This is because the brain acquires signals from the nerves found in both ears and utilizes these details to process sounds.

What Causes Hearing Loss In One Ear?

Hearing loss in one ear can be caused due to a wide range of reasons, including:

  • Blockage of the ear
  • Physical injury to the ear
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Illness
  • Head trauma

Hearing changes can also be a natural outcome of aging. Some causes are reversible, such as ear infections with fluid build-up or wax build-up in the ear canal. At the same time, some causes are irreversible, including those caused by problems with the ear function itself. 

Apart from the above-listed causes, some medical conditions can also result in sudden deafness in one ear. These include:

  • Eardrum rupture: A tumor that presses on the nerves that impact hearing
  • Acoustic neuroma: A small tear or hole in the eardrum
  • Meniere’s disease: A disorder affecting the inner ear which ultimately leads to deafness
  • Labyrinthitis: A condition that causes the inner ear apparatus to become irritated and swollen. 
  • Otitis externa – Also called swimmer’s ear, it causes inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal
  • Otitis media with effusion: An infection with sticky or thick fluid behind the eardrum
  • Temporal arteritis: Damage and inflammation of the blood vessels in the head and neck
  • Reye’s syndrome: A rare disorder most frequently observed in children
  • Vertebrobasilar insufficiency: Inadequate blood flow to the back of the brain
  • Shingles: An infection caused due to the same virus that causes chickenpox

Hearing loss in one ear can also be caused by certain prescription medications, including:

  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Antibiotics such as streptomycin and tobramycin
  • Salicylate (aspirin) toxicity
  • Diuretics such as furosemide

How Is Sudden Hearing Loss In One Ear Diagnosed?

Research says that about 10 – 15% of people who suffer sudden deafness in one ear have an identifiable cause for their condition. It’s crucial to schedule an appointment with your doctor soon after you experience hearing loss in one ear or both ears. 

During your visit, your healthcare specialist will review your medical history in addition to medical history to confirm the diagnosis. They can also conduct a physical examination of your ears, nose, and throat.

Your healthcare provider may also order a hearing test. During this test, your doctor or specialist called audiologist will evaluate how you respond to a variety of sounds and tones at diverse volume levels. It will help your doctor determine which part of your ear is affected and also provide clues for the root cause of your condition. 

Also Read: Don’t Go Deaf, use Earphones Wisely

How Is Sudden Hearing Loss In One Ear Treated?

Your doctor will recommend the correct treatment alternative for sudden deafness in one ear based on the underlying cause. In some cases, hearing loss is irreversible. Your doctor may recommend using a hearing aid if there’s no other treatment for your hearing loss. 

Other treatment alternatives include:

  • antibiotics to treat infection
  • stopping the use of the medication that might be causing your hearing loss
  • steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • surgery to repair the ear or remove a tumor

Sudden deafness in one ear caused due to wax build-up can be treated by gently removing the wax. You can also try having certain over-the-counter medications hydrogen peroxide, a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, or earwax removal products. Seek professional help if these products fail to treat your symptoms within a couple of days. Extended use of these products can cause irritation to your ears.

If you have a foreign object in your ear that is affecting your hearing ability, please do not attempt to remove it on your own. Make sure you never insert cotton swabs or any objects such as tweezers to take off the foreign body, as these objects may lead to an ear injury. If you experience additional symptoms, including facial weakness, dizziness, or neurological symptoms, consult your doctor right away.


Hearing loss in one ear is common and can occur due to a variety of causes. Various treatments are available for hearing loss; your doctor will recommend the most suitable one depending upon the root cause of your symptoms. Regardless of whether you experience sudden deafness in one ear or both ears, you should consult your healthcare provider immediately to keep your condition from worsening. 


Photo of author

Janet Fudge

Janet Fudge writes on general health topics for CheapMedicineShop.com. She holds a post-graduate diploma in Public Health with a major in epidemiology. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Janet actively volunteered in vaccination drives throughout the state of Iowa. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children.