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Unilateral hearing loss


What is unilateral hearing loss?

When hearing is impaired in only one (1) ear, it is called a unilateral (yoo nih LAH tur al) hearing loss. The following are some reasons a person may have a unilateral hearing loss:

  • Ear infections
  • Cranial radiation (treatment to the head)
  • A tumor pressing on or near the auditory (hearing) nerve
  • Surgery or swelling close to the auditory nerve
  • Being hit on the head
  • A hole in the ear drum
  • Some children are born with a hearing loss for unknown reasons

Are all unilateral hearing losses permanent?

Three general types of hearing loss exist. A hearing loss can be conductive (con DUK tiv). This type of hearing loss involves the outer or middle ear. It does not involve the inner ear or auditory nerve. It is usually not permanent.

A hearing loss can also be sensorineural (sen soh ree NUR el). This means that it involves the inner ear and/or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent. It may be reversible if the hearing loss is caused by a tumor or swelling in the head or brain.

A hearing loss can also be mixed—both conductive and sensorineural.

What can be done to help?

Most children with unilateral hearing loss do not have problems with their speech or language. Most of the time they do not have problems understanding others, but sometimes it can be harder. One place where it would be harder to understand is a noisy area, such as a cafeteria. Parents and teachers can help by following these tips:

  • Get the child’s attention before speaking.
  • Use words the child knows and use simple sentences.
  • If you say something the child does not understand, do not repeat the same thing. Try saying it in a different way.
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to add meaning to the words you are saying.
  • At school, the child should sit in the front of the class. The “good” ear should be close to the teacher and away from distracting noises, such as a hallway or air conditioner.
  • Minimize distracting noise inside and outside the classroom.
  • Routinely check the child’s speech, language, and academic progress.
  • Consider using a personal FM system in school to help the child hear the teacher's voice over other noises.
  • The child may have trouble localizing sounds. This means that the child may not be able to quickly know where a sound is coming from.
  • Learning bicycle and traffic safety rules is important because it may be harder for the child to hear warning sounds.
  • Protect the hearing in the “good” ear:
    • Avoid loud noises. The child should wear earplugs or ear muffs if there are loud noises around them.
    • See a doctor if you think your child has an ear infection.
    • Do not put anything in the ear unless your doctor tells you to do so.
    • Be aware that some prescription and over-the-counter medicines may affect hearing. These are called ototoxic (oh tah TOK sik) medicines. Children with unilateral hearing loss should have their hearing checked often if they are taking an ototoxic medicine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure if a medicine your child is taking can damage hearing.
    • The doctors your child sees in the future should be told about the hearing loss.
  • Have a hearing test one (1) time a year by a certified audiologist. If you think that there has been a change in hearing (better or worse), the child’s hearing should be tested as soon as possible.


If you have questions about unilateral hearing loss, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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