Although hearing loss often occurs at the same rate in both ears, there are instances where someone loses all of their hearing in one ear and has normal to near normal hearing in the other ear. This is referred to as single-sided deafness or unilateral hearing loss.

Historically, two treatment options were available: a BiCROS/CROS (contralateral routing of signal) hearing system or a bone anchored hearing device. A BiCROS/CROS system utilizes a receiver (in the form of a hearing aid) on the poor hearing ear and a hearing aid on the better hearing ear. Sounds from the poor ear are wirelessly transferred to the better hearing ear.

The bone anchored hearing device option requires a short surgery to place an implant in the mastoid bone on the poor hearing side. After healing, the individual returns to an audiologist for an external processor fitting. The processor takes in sounds through microphones and transfers them to the implant and the mastoid bone. Through the bones of the skull, the sounds are transferred to and heard in the better hearing ear.

In the aforementioned treatments, sounds are picked up on the poor hearing side but are utilized by the better hearing ear. These systems allow for people to hear sounds occurring on their poor hearing side despite the poor ear not being able to take in sounds.

Recently, two implantable device manufacturers received FDA approval to surgically implant cochlear implants into the poor hearing ear, even when there is normal hearing on the opposite side. The cochlear implant allows the poor inner ear (cochlea) to be stimulated again, in turn stimulating the entire auditory system.

Although the cochlear implant surgical and activation process can take time and require audiological rehabilitation, the outcomes are impressive. Individuals may not only detect sounds from their poor ear better, but they may be able to localize where sound is coming from and may eventually be able to follow conversations better in different situations. The audiologists at the Eckelmann-Taylor Speech and Hearing Clinic offer a consultation to discuss what treatment options are best for single-sided deafness and other hearing conditions.