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Communication Disorders
Communication Disorders

Unilateral hearing loss

Unilateral hearing loss is hearing with only one ear.

Unilateral hearing loss is often misunderstood.  Children who rely on hearing from only one side often experience the following problems:

  1. Sound cannot be heard well from the ear that has hearing loss. This might seem obvious, but it is important to remember this when you are talking to your child. It is also important to think about classroom seating. The appropriate seating arrangement can make a big difference to your child’s hearing.  This varies depending upon the classroom.  Generally,  the normal hearing ear should be closest to the teacher and farthest away from potential noise sources e.g. hallway, windows, fans and other equipment.
  2. Sounds need to be louder. Try for yourself; Plug one ear with your finger – does everything seem softer? Hearing loss makes it harder to listen for long periods of time.  Your child is likely to feel tired from trying to listen hard with only one good ear.
  3. It is hard to hear what people are saying when there is background noise. Hearing with both ears allows us to tune out background noise and tune into what is important. When there is hearing loss in one ear, this natural ‘squelch effect’ is lost.  It will be harder for your child to understand what someone is saying when there is a lot of noise in the background.
  4. It is hard to know where sounds are coming from. Our ability to tell where sounds come from is a result of hearing with both ears.  You may notice your child searching for the source of sounds, or unable to find out where a sound has come from.
  5. Sound quality is lost. When we hear from both ears, it feels like the sound is coming from all around us.  For those with hearing on only one side, it feels like sound is only heard ‘at the better ear’.  The fullness of sound is lost.  This makes it harder to enjoy listening.

Things you can do to help your child

  • Ask for the most appropriate seating in the classroom and good lighting
  • Try to limit background noise (ex. tennis balls on chairs, carpets, window coverings)
  • Provide a quiet area to study at home
  • Make sure that hearing is checked regularly – at least once per year
  • Consider using assistive listening devices, like an FM system or hearing aid, to help make listening easier    
  • Use headphones as necessary (e.g. with personal home devices or TV)
  • Teach your child how to use visual cues to locate sources of sound.  For example, look for the signal at a railway track, or watch for cars while playing outside
  • Promote assertiveness for better hearing and understanding. For example, ask for clarification when a speaker is not clearly heard, move in closer to the signal source, position yourself accordingly so to lend your better hearing ear to the speaker

If we all understand your child’s hearing loss and help people at school to understand, we can all work together to meet your child’s needs.