Why Binaural Hearing is Important
Binaural Hearing refers to the brain’s ability to integrate information from both ears at once, which greatly improves overall communication and the ability to understand where sounds come from in relation to your body’s position. Hearing with both ears helps us to listen in noisy, complex environments and to hear speech sounds in noise.
It’s difficult to get by with only one healthy ear (unilateral hearing loss), particularly in educational settings. For example, children with unilateral hearing loss are far more likely to be forced to repeat a grade. Additionally, individuals with unilateral hearing loss find that speech comprehension suffers greatly, falling to only about 30 to 35 percent of what can be heard with two healthy ears.
Individuals often experience different levels of hearing loss in each ear.
And patients in this situation frequently ask us, “Can’t I just treat my really bad ear for hearing loss? Won’t that be improvement enough?”
While we at Southern Maine Audiology sometimes see patients with hearing loss in only one ear (also known as unilateral hearing loss), typically the factors that led to the impairment have affected both ears — just to a different degree. In this relatively common situation, we find that fitting just one hearing aid usually fails to provide a satisfying sound experience for the wearer.
Hearing well with both ears not only takes advantage of our ears’ critical ability to identify the location of sound (a surprisingly important component of our ability to listen and to focus on sound effectively), it also helps make speech easier to understand in the presence of noise and helps reduce the fatigue and confusion brought on by difficult listening environments.
Two Ears Means More Brainpower
Sounds collected by your left ear are initially processed by the right side of your brain, while sounds collected by your right ear are initially processed by the left side of your brain. After they are received, the two halves of your brain work together to organize the signals into recognizable words and sounds. Using both sides of the brain significantly improves the ability to decipher speech and what’s known as “selective listening” ability — the ability to pay attention to the sound or voice you really want to hear.
Two Ears Hear Better in Noise
Similarly, using more of your brain to focus on the sound you want to hear is tremendously important in overcoming one of the primary complaints of individuals with hearing loss: hearing among background noise. Also, a person wearing two hearing aids generally needs less amplification than someone wearing only one. Lower volume means less potential for sound distortion and feedback, which leads to higher-quality reproduction of sound.
Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss
In less common cases in which there is a total hearing loss in one ear (also known as profound unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness), there are medical therapies that may help to re-create some of the effects of binaural hearing. These include bone-conduction systems (also known as bone-anchored hearing aids, or BAHA devices) that can help transmit vibrations from the non-hearing ear to the functioning ear. Also, CROS (contralateral routing of sound) hearing aids are available that use a microphone in the non-hearing ear to transmit the sound to the hearing hear. Contact us to discuss your hearing situation and what kind of hearing care solution is right for you.
Common Types of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SHL): The most common type of hearing loss, SHL is typically the result of damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner-ear organ (the cochlea) that are responsible for picking up sounds. When these hair cells — or the nerves they connect to — are damaged or destroyed by repeated exposure to loud noise, hearing becomes more difficult. Because hearing damage usually affects the highest frequencies first, loud-noise exposure can result in permanent high-frequency hearing loss.
What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Sensorineural hearing loss refers to any reduction in hearing sensitivity or sound clarity that is caused by damage to the delicate structures of the inner ear or the nerve pathways that carry the sound signal from the inner ear to the auditory processing area of the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss and affects 28 million Americans.
Sensorineural hearing loss is usually cumulative and occurs slowly. Exposure to very loud noise is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss followed by aging (presbycusis). Certain medications and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are also known causes of sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing aids are the primary treatment for sensorineural hearing loss as medical or surgical intervention is rarely possible. Correctly fitted hearing aids stimulate the affected nerves in the inner ear and fill in the Sound Voids that most sufferers experience. Today’s hearing aid technology can even address ‘high-frequency’ sensorineural hearing losses that were once thought to be un-treatable. If hearing loss is severe, a cochlear implant may be recommended.
Since sensorineural hearing loss is often caused by exposure to loud noises, we highly recommend the use of hearing protection if you find yourself around loud noises frequently. If you are diabetic, keep your blood glucose levels well controlled. A healthy diet and regular exercise are a must to prevent the onset of heart disease and other medical problems that are also identified with hearing loss. A healthy lifestyle, excellent nutrition, and the use of well-fitted hearing protection will help you hear for life.